[Documents menu] Documents menu

Koreas Open High-Level Nuke Talks

By Paul Shin, AP, Washington Post, Sunday 20 October 2002; 8:15 AM

SEOUL, South Korea—South Korea presented its demand Sunday that the North abandon its nuclear weapons program, but was met with silence, South Korean officials said.

The North’s nuclear issue was a main topic at Cabinet-level talks that opened in the North’s capital, Pyongyang. It was the first official venue for South Korea to raise the issue since Washington said North Korea admitted having a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement the two countries signed in Geneva.

We demanded that North Korea faithfully honor all international agreements it has signed, Rhee Bong-jo, a South Korean spokesman, said after the first-day talks ended after just 50 minutes.

We also asked them to open dialogue with concerned countries and the international community and take convincing actions, Rhee said in pool reports distributed in Seoul. No foreign reporters were allowed to cover the talks.

Rhee said North Korean officials just listened to the South Korean demands and did not respond.

Rhee said the two sides had no plan to meet again on Sunday but instead planned to discuss the issue in informal talks. The talks in Pyongyang, the eighth in a series since a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, were scheduled to continue until Tuesday.

Instead of holding a further formal meeting Sunday, officials of the two Koreas met in informal talks to discuss the nuclear issue, pool reports said.

A formal North Korean reponse to the South Korean demand was expected in another round of main talks on Monday, South Korean officials said.

Overall, the atmosphere of the talks was heavy but sincere, Rhee said. He also said other issues taken up at the talks included a proposal to account for thousands of people missing during and after the 1950-53 Korean War.

Before starting full talks, the two chief delegates exchanged testy remarks over the North’s nuclear issue in the presence of reporters.

Checking the weather in Pyongyang this morning, I found the skies have come down. It looks like rain. I feel heavy-hearted just like the weather, said chief South Korean delegate Jeong Se-hyun, alluding to his concerns over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The chief North Korean negotiator, Kim Ryong Song, replied: No matter what the weather outside looks like, concerns would disappear if the North and South join hands and try to resolve problems, according to the pool reports.

Jeong retorted that warm inter-Korean relations and frosty international concerns would create problems, the pool reports said.

If there is a big difference in temperature, you can catch cold, Jeong said. It’s no good if it’s too warm inside while it’s too cold outside. The temperature should be made similar.

The talks in Pyongyang had been planned to discuss inter-Korean reconciliation, long before the North’s nuclear issue arose. South Korea decided make the North’s nuclear issue a priority.

During talks with visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in Pyongyang on Oct. 3-5, North Korean officials acknowledged that they had a uranium-enriching program to make weapons.

The program violates a 1994 agreement for energy-starved North Korea to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program in exchange for two modern, light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year until the reactors are completed.

During the talks with Kelly, North Korean officials said they considered the 1994 agreement invalid because the reactors were not expected to be finished by 2003 as promised. The project has been delayed by funding problems and tension on the Korean Peninsula.

On Saturday in Seoul, Kelly said Washington would try to muster maximum international pressure on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. He said the United States would not take the same diplomatic course that led to the 1994 accord.

Kelly headed to Japan Sunday for talks with Japanese leaders about North Korea’s nuclear program. He was expected to discuss temporarily freezing construction on two the two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea.

A U.S. State Department official told The Associated Press Saturday night that no decision has been reached yet on the 1994 accord. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States wants to consult with its allies before making a decision on the pact.

The North’s admission seriously challenged South Korean President Kim Dae-jung’s sunshine policy of engaging Pyongyang. The South Korean government says dialogue is the best way to deal with concerns about North Korea, and the United States has also said it will seek a peaceful resolution to the issue of nuclear weapons.