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No breakthrough seen as Koreas prepare for nuke talks

20 september 2011, 11:22
North and South Korea will meet again this week to try to revive international nuclear disarmament talks, but officials and analysts predict no early breakthroughs, AFP reports.

Seoul's foreign ministry said its chief nuclear negotiator Wi Sung-Lac would meet his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-Ho in Beijing Wednesday for their second round of talks in two months.

They aim to pave the way for a resumption of full six-party negotiations on the North's nuclear disarmament, a process which began back in 2003 and groups the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

North Korea formally abandoned the six-nation forum in April 2009, a month before staging a second nuclear test which brought worldwide condemnation and fresh United Nations sanctions.

Now all sides say they want to start talking again, especially after Pyongyang's disclosure last November of a uranium enrichment programme (UEP) which could give it a second way to make atomic weapons.

But while the North wants six-party talks without preconditions, South Korea and the United States say it must show seriousness about giving up its nuclear arsenal in return for economic, diplomatic and security benefits.

Washington also told Pyongyang to improve ties with Seoul, which were strained by two deadly border incidents blamed on the North last year.

In July Wi and Ri held surprise talks on the Indonesian island of Bali, and these were followed by a US-North Korean meeting in New York.

Dongguk University professor Kim Yong-Hyun said the North seems serious about resuming six-party talks since it badly needs foreign economic assistance.

He said the Beijing meeting would produce no firm agreements on the UEP or other issues, because the North wants to use it as a stepping stone to more talks with the United States.

"However, I believe six-party talks could be held this year if progress is made at talks between North Korea and the US," Kim told AFP.

Seoul's negotiator Wi was less optimistic in comments last month, saying it was "too ambitious" to expect the international forum to reopen this autumn.

"We cannot go to six-party talks when (the North's) nuclear programmes are up and running," Wi told reporters at that time.

The North says its UEP is for peaceful power generation while South Korea and the United States call it illegal under UN resolutions.

They want the North to suspend the UEP and take "concrete steps" towards denuclearisation before six-party talks can resume.

Pyongyang's negotiator Ri, however, reportedly repeated calls Monday for talks with no strings attached.

"Attaching pre-conditions ahead of a dialogue will hurt the trust and confidence in each other," Ri was quoted by the South's Yonhap news agency as telling a closed-door forum in Beijing.

"That's why we call for unconditionally resuming the six-party talks."

The aim of Wednesday's meeting is to discuss broader issues to create conditions for resuming the six-way talks, a senior Seoul government official told Yonhap.

"But we can't achieve results through just one or two rounds of denuclearisation talks."

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