S. Korea: Crisis almost ending

SEOUL: South Korea said yesterday a diplomatic end to the North Korean nuclear crisis was “getting closer,” and that it would try selling a settlement plan to the United States and Japan when the three allies meet to chart a joint strategy. 

Seoul’s National Security Council convened yesterday to discuss possible plans that South Korean diplomats will present to their US and Japanese counterparts at the talks, scheduled for tomorrow and Tuesday in Washington. 

Speaking after the security meeting, a senior South Korean government official revealed few details about the proposal. But local media reports have said it would call for concessions from both the United States and North Korea. 

“We are getting closer to finding an answer,” the official said on condition of anonymity. “We will see. We have a lot on the schedule next week.” 

The upcoming trilateral meeting is part of the three allies’ regular forum for coordinating policy toward the communist North. This time, the talks will be dominated by discussions on how to bring North Korea’s nuclear weapons programmes under international controls. 

Communist North Korea alarmed the world in October by admitting to a US envoy it had a secret uranium-based nuclear weapons programme, in violation of a 1994 accord. 

As punishment, the United States and its allies halted oil supplies promised in the 1994 agreement. North Korea then announced in early December it would reactivate its older plutonium-based nuclear programme, saying it needed it as an energy source. 

The United States says the plutonium-based programme, at the Yongbyon complex north of Pyongyang, could be used to build nuclear weapons. Washington has indicated North Korea might already have two nuclear weapons and could build several more in short order. 

Meanwhile, South Korea has stepped up efforts to play mediator between the United States, its key ally, and its erstwhile enemy, North Korea. 

“It’s our government’s firm position that the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved in a peaceful way and through diplomacy,” the South Korean official said. 

South Korean diplomats have travelled to Russia and China, North Korea’s two traditional allies, soliciting support. Both Moscow and Beijing want a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but have stopped short of declaring that they will aggressively pressure the North to give up its weapons programmes. 

The United States demands the North abandon its nuclear programmes before any possible negotiations. But the North says it will scrap them only when Washington agrees to a non-aggression treaty. 

One South Korean compromise under study calls for the United States to resume oil shipments to North Korea, in return for North Korea abandoning its uranium nuclear development, media reported yesterday. – AP  

  • Another perspective from The Korea Herald, a partner of Asia News Network. 

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