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South Korea fails to lead North back to nuclear talks
Updated: 2005-12-16 16:54

South Korea failed to persuade the North it should return to multilateral talks on ending its nuclear programmes but the two sides agreed on Friday on railway links, family reunions and Red Cross meetings.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the first senior-level meeting between the two since Pyongyang threatened to pull out of separate six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programme, Seoul and Pyongyang reiterated existing positions on the nuclear crisis.

"Both sides agreed to actively cooperate on a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue," the joint statement said.

It did not mention when North Korea would head back to the table to continue negotiating a deal to scrap its nuclear weapons programmes in exchange for aid, security assurances and increased diplomatic recognition.

South Korean officials said they had wanted to try to prod North Korea back to the six-party talks at the meeting on the South Korean resort island of Cheju that started on Tuesday.

But at the ministerial meeting, North Korea accused the United States of blocking a quick return to the nuclear talks by adopting a hostile policy toward it, a South Korean Unification Ministry official said.

The next round of the nuclear talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States was likely to be held in January, sources familiar with those discussions have said, but Pyongyang has threatened to boycott the discussions.

North and South Korean officials agreed to work to register cultural sites in the ancient Korean capital of Kaesong with UNESCO as part of its world heritage project, the statement said.

They will have test runs of cross-border rail links and arrange for meetings of their Red Cross societies by February 2006, and pledged to hold more joint military talks soon.


They are also working on another round of face-to-face reunions for families separated by the 1950-1953 Korean War as well as holding another round of reunions by video conferencing.

Officials from the two Koreas had taken time away from the talks to see the sights in Cheju, inspect orchards together and even share local heart-shaped sweet tangerines.

On the final day, however, the mood grew sour when North Korean officials said they were ready to leave the conference, apparently because they did not see South Korea compromising about areas its citizens can visit in the North.

"We cannot make any progress here. It is time to go home," one North Korean official told reporters.

North Korea said Seoul did not allow the South's citizens to visit sites such as the tomb of North Korea's eternal president and founder, Kim Il-sung.

South Korean officials said it places no restrictions on travel to the North, but South Korean citizens who visit politically sensitive places in the North could face punishment under the South's laws.

While ties between Seoul and Pyongyang have been mostly warming in recent months, relations between Pyongyang and Washington have chilled.

Washington, which accuses North Korea of funding its nuclear programmes partly through money obtained from counterfeiting, money laundering and the drug trade, has angered North Korea by freezing a few of its assets and trying to put the brakes on firms taking part in suspected illegal trade.

Pyongyang said this month the U.S. crackdown on its financial assets made it impossible to resume six-party talks on dismantling its nuclear programmes.

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