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S. Korea, Japan discuss N.K. uranium program

Nuclear envoys of South Korea and Japan discussed how to deal with North Korea’s renewed uranium enrichment activities and the terms of resuming multinational talks on Pyongyang’s denuclearization in Seoul on Tuesday.

The meeting comes as tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to run high over the communist North’s ongoing nuclear ambitions as well as the issue of repatriating dozens of North Koreans who accidentally strayed here on a boat last month.

In their meeting, Seoul’s chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac and his Japanese counterpart Shinsuke Sugiyama were to “be discussing a broad range of issues related to North Korea,” a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said ahead of the luncheon Tuesday.

“They will be sharing views on having the U.N. Security Council act on North Korea’s uranium enrichment program and reaffirm their stance that the North must put into action its willingness to denuclearize before rejoining the six-party talks,” he said.

Tokyo’s nuclear envoy Sugiyama, who is also in charge of handling relations with South Korea, arrived in Seoul on Monday to discuss pending issues including Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

Partners of the six-nation dialogue ― the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the U.S. ― have been coordinating the conditions under which they can resume the talks, suspended since December 2008.

While China and Russia back North Korea’s wish to resume the aid-for-denuclearization dialogue as soon as possible, the U.S. and its two Asian allies want Pyongyang to first prove its willingness to disarm.

Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are also together on getting the U.N. Security Council to denounce Pyongyang’s uranium program, viewed as the newest indication of the unpredictable country’s ongoing nuclear ambitions. Uranium, if highly enriched, can be used in producing nuclear weapons.

The program is a violation of the U.N. resolutions and North Korea’s own pledge made in the 2005 six-party talks to abandon its nuclear programs.

North Korea has expressed hopes of rejoining the talks in an apparent bid to secure outside aid as it suffers from deepening food shortages. The communist state, however, refuses to admit or apologize for the two deadly attacks it made against Seoul last year, turning South Korea reluctant to resume dialogue.

As a new development aggravating tensions between the two divided countries, South Korea has said it will keep four among the 31 North Koreans who drifted over the sea border to the South last month.

While Seoul says the decision was made to respect the wishes of the four, Pyongyang accuses its rival of influencing their decision and has demanded to see them in the Red Cross talks it proposed for later this week.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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