S.Korea says nuclear talks would allow compromise
SEOUL - South Korea's offer of a major new proposal if North Korea returns to six-country talks on its nuclear programs would allow more room for compromise in the crisis, the South's foreign minister said on Wednesday.
South Korea is seeking at bilateral talks this week to urge the North to return to the multilateral table to join the South, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
Foreign minister Ban Ki-moon told reporters a new proposal would be presented once the talks resume.
"It will be something closer to compromise, which would allow more room for it to be accepted," Ban said, without elaborating on the details of the proposal.
South Korea told the North at bilateral talks on Monday it was prepared to make a serious new proposal.
Those rare North-South talks -- the first senior-level contact in 10 months -- broke on Wednesday without major progress on the nuclear crisis and were to resume on Thursday.
South Korea has pressed the North for two days for a pledge to return to six-country talks, but has failed to win a commitment, Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo was quoted as saying in a pool report from where the talks were being held.
"North Korean nuclear programs are unacceptable," Rhee was quoted as saying in Kaesong, a city just north of the fortified Demilitarized Zone that bisects the divided Korean peninsula.
"We made it clear that unless the principle of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula is met, reconciliation and cooperation between the South and North is impossible," he said.
Tensions have mounted over North Korea's nuclear weapons plans in recent weeks after some U.S. officials said North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear test.
The talks were originally scheduled for just two days but were extended to allow both sides to try for a joint statement.
North Korea has frequently used stalling tactics in talks with the South, pushing the end of discussions well beyond schedule -- often to win maximum concessions from the prosperous southern neighbor while conceding the minimum.
Seoul hoped to use the bilateral talks to press the North back to six-country talks on its plans, nearly a year after the last international negotiations ended with no substantive progress on ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs in return for aid and security guarantees.
Regional powers believe North Korea has one or two nuclear weapons -- and possibly more than eight. It declared for the first time in February it possessed nuclear arms and also said this month it had extracted spent fuel from a nuclear reactor, a move that could yield more material for weapons.
The United States, meanwhile, said it would not wait forever for North Korea to return to six-party talks.
"We're coming to a very important moment, where we are reaching one year (since the talks stalled)," said Christopher Hill, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and head of the U.S. six-party talks delegation.
"If it's not going to work, we are going to have to look at other options," Hill told a news conference in Canberra during a two-day visit. He declined to elaborate.
South Korea agreed in principle to provide 200,000 tonnes of fertilizer to its impoverished neighbor, but there would have to be more talks on the additional 300,000 tonnes requested by the North, Rhee said.
The two sides also agreed in principle to resume stalled ministerial-level talks some time in June. Fourteen rounds of the talks since 2000 have been the forum of a wide range of bilateral issues, including political, economic and military.