Koreas pledge to help nuclear talks succeed
The Democratic Peole's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) pledged on Friday after ministerial talks to work together for the success of multilateral negotiations in late February on ending the beleaguered North's nuclear programmes.
The Seoul meeting had been marked by testy exchanges that experts said showed Pyongyang felt increasingly cornered in the world community, especially following revelations this week that a top Pakistani scientist had sold it nuclear technology.
"South and North agreed to cooperate for a fruitful second round of six-party talks to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully," said a joint statement issued after three days of inter-Korean ministerial talks in Seoul.
The 13th set of cabinet-level contacts since the capitalist South and communist North began their cautious reconciliation process four years ago began just hours after the North announced a long-awaited date for the six-way talks.
But the upbeat mood soon dissipated as the significance of the revelations from Pakistan sank in.
"The North is in a difficult situation, in a jam," said Kim Sung-han, a DPRK-US relations expert at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS).
He said the dramatic confessions by Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, had undercut Pyongyang's efforts to deny the existence of a clandestine uranium enrichment programme that was the catalyst for the nuclear dispute.
DPRK has yet to issue a reaction to Khan's statements.
"The North definitely feels a difference in temperature now," said Kim after South Korea rebuffed the North delegates' efforts to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington with well-rehearsed calls for "ethnic cooperation".
The North's chief delegate, Kim Ryong-song, sought to blame the United States for the relatively slow pace of inter-Korean economic projects and accused Seoul of colluding with Washington.
"To get drawn into the cooperation against the North is to drive the nation to mutual destruction," Kim said on Wednesday.
South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, Kim's counterpart, chided him for creating unnecessary trouble.
"If our relations deteriorate, it will only be damaging to the North," Jeong said.
South Korea told the North its security concerns and need for economic assistance would be dealt with once the nuclear problem was resolved, said Shin Un-sang, the South Korean spokesman.
The two sides agreed to try to hold new military talks, although there was no guarantee the North would follow through.
South Korea's version of the statement said the two would hold military talks between generals as soon as possible with the intention of convening defence ministers' talks to follow up a one-off meeting in September 2000.
But the North, where the secretive military is the paramount authority, issued a statement saying only that both sides would propose military talks to their military authorities.
South Korea's Shin said the general-level talks would first take up preventing military clashes in the Yellow Sea, where a series of naval clashes have killed dozens of sailors.
"But the North is usually lukewarm toward any exchanges between the militaries," Shin said.
The North's 1.1 million-strong military, the world's fifth largest, has nearly twice the number of active forces of South Korea.
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in an armed truce that has not been replaced by a peace treaty.
DPRK, which has suffered dire food shortages over the past decade and a famine, requested 200,000 tonnes of fertiliser at the talks. ROK promised to consider the request, Shin said.
The ministers also agreed to hold a new round of reunions of families divided since the Korean War at the end of March and set May 4-7 as the dates for the next cabinet-level talks. Both the reunions and the ministerial talks will be held in the North.