SEOUL: North Korea told South Korea yesterday that it should not meddle in a stand-off over the communist North's suspected nuclear weapons, calling it a dispute between Pyongyang and Washington.
In a second day of Cabinet-level talks in Pyongyang, South Korean delegates again demanded that the North abandon any nuclear weapons development, citing a 1992 inter-Korean agreement to keep the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.
Northern negotiators stonewalled the nuclear discussion.
“The Northern side reiterated that the nuclear issue is a matter between the North and the United States,'' said a statement from the South Korean government. “But they said they wanted to resolve the matter peacefully.''
The talks, which began on Sunday, are scheduled to end today.
Seoul officials said North Korean delegates had not confirmed a US claim that during talks in Beijing last week they had told an American envoy that they might test, sell or use atomic weapons, depending on Washington's actions.
Instead, they reiterated that the North made a “new, bold'' proposal to the United States during the Beijing talks, but did not elaborate, South Korean spokesman Shin Eun-sang said.
US officials did not reveal the North's proposal, but South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, quoting unidentified diplomatic sources, reported yesterday that North Korea proposed to give up its nuclear programmes in return for a non-aggression treaty and normalisation of “political and economic relations'' with the United States.
The administration of US President George W. Bush has ruled out such a treaty, but US officials have said some form of written security guarantee could be possible. North Korea says it fears being invaded by the United States following the Iraq war.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday that when he meets Bush in Washington on May 15, they will discuss co-operating “to find a complete and peaceful solution to the nuclear issue,'' Roh's office said in a statement.
During Sunday's talks, North Korea called for “united efforts of all the Koreans'' to “reject the unilateral strong-arm action of foreign forces ... and prevent the danger of war,'' said the North's official news agency KCNA.
Such remarks reflect the North's long-standing policy of driving a wedge between the South and its main ally, the United States.
The North tried to shift the focus of the talks to linking cross-border railways and other economic projects with South Korea that were part of a reconciliation process that grew out of a historic North-South summit in June 2000.
During a visit on Sunday to an unidentified “frontline unit,'' North Korean leader Kim Jong il was satisfied that his soldiers were ready to repulse “any surprise attack of the enemy at one stroke,'' and gave “guidelines in further increasing the unit's combat capability,'' KCNA said. – AP
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