Sunday, 6 September 2009

US, SKorea envoys discuss NKorean nuclear claim

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, right, shakes hands with the U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth during their meeting at the South-North Dialogue Secretariat building in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009. Washington's special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, is in the region for discussions with China, South Korea and Japan over how to bring Pyongyang back to six-nation talks that the North has boycotted since earlier this year. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

By KWANG-TAE KIM, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea – Top nuclear envoys from South Korea and the United States held talks Saturday on a strategy to bring North Korea back to disarmament talks, a day after the North claimed it is in the final stages of enriching uranium.

U.S. special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, and South Korean envoy Wi Sung-lac made no comments after their meeting. Bosworth later met with South Korea's minister in charge of relations with North Korea, and the Unification Ministry said the two agreed to closely cooperate in resolving the nuclear dispute.

Bosworth said in Beijing on Friday that any nuclear development in North Korea was a matter of concern.

"We confirm the necessity to maintain a coordinated position and the need for a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," he said.

Bosworth is to leave for Tokyo on Sunday for similar consultations with Japanese officials. Chief U.S. nuclear negotiator, Sung Kim, plans to return to Seoul on Tuesday to meet with Russian nuclear envoy Grigory Logvinov.

North Korea also announced it is continuing to weaponize plutonium. Uranium offers an easier way to make nuclear weapons, and uranium-based bombs may work without requiring test explosions.

Washington shows no signs of easing pressure on North Korea through new U.N. sanctions, despite a series of conciliatory gestures by the North, including the release of two detained American journalists and a reported invitation to top U.S. envoys, including Bosworth, to visit Pyongyang.

"We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions," the North said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council carried Friday by its official Korean Central News Agency. If some members of the council put "sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue," it said.

The North warned it would be left with no choice but to take "yet another strong self-defensive countermeasure" if the standoff continues. It did not elaborate.

A pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan urged the U.S. to hold talks with the North to make the Korean peninsula nuclear-free. The Choson Sinbo newspaper, widely seen as a mouthpiece for North Korea, said time is not "limitless" for the U.S. to decide whether to hold talks or continue to pursue sanctions.

The U.S. has pressed for North Korea to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

North Korea has said it will only talk one-on-one with the Obama administration.

Bosworth said Friday the U.S. is willing to have direct talks, but only within the framework of the six-nation talks.

Analysts said the North appears to be trying to add urgency to the standoff.

"The North is saying that the more delayed U.S.-North Korea talks are, the greater its nuclear capabilities will become," said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies.

Meanwhile, a report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said there is no sign of reconstruction at the North's main Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which was partially disabled under an agreement reached in the six-nation talks. It cited commercial satellite imagery taken Aug. 10 by DigitalGlobe.

Separately, North Korea also said it will continue to seek self-defensive measures in response to an alleged U.S. move to develop a new bunker-buster bomb, KCNA reported. It claimed the U.S. is accelerating production of the bomb to destroy "underground nuclear facilities" in North Korea and Iran.


Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang and Wanjin Park in Seoul, Chi-Chi Zhang in Beijing and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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