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Saturday, August 13, 2005

South Korea scrambles to downplay rift with Washington over North Korea - Yahoo! News

South Korea scrambles to downplay rift with Washington over North Korea - Yahoo! News South Korea scrambles to downplay rift with Washington over North Korea

Fri Aug 12,11:26 AM ET

South Korea scrambled to downplay an apparent policy rift with the United States over North Korea after a senior minister endorsed Pyongyang's right to maintain a civilian nuclear program.

Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young threw a new complication Thursday into six-party negotiations on ending North Korea's nuclear drive, saying that Pyongyang had a "natural right" to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Officials here stressed that Chung had been talking about what Pyongyang might have if the communist state rejoins a global non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and meets other international obligations.

"Our official stance is that North Korea would be able to engage in civilian nuclear activities if and when it gives up weapons programs, returns to the NPT and observes IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards," Cho Tae-Yong, head of the foreign ministry's task force on the nuclear issue, told reporters.

The United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia are in negotiations with North Korea in an effort to persuade Pyongyang to renounce its program to develop nuclear weapons.

Thirteen days of intensive discussions in Beijing recessed Sunday for three weeks with no agreement. A main stumbling block was North Korea's insistence on retaining civilian nuclear capacity.

Cho dismissed as "irresponsible" news reports that South Korea was moving to persuade the United States and other participants in the six-way talks to endorse North Korea's right to peaceful nuclear activities.

He stressed that North Korea, under any circumstances, must not possess uranium-enrichment or plutonium-reprocessing facilities and graphite-moderated reactors.

A Unification Ministry spokesman denied any rift with the United States.

"There is nothing like a rift between Seoul and Washington on this issue," he said.

In Washington, Adam Ereli, deputy State Department spokesman, also played down suggestions of policy differences.

"There's no rift between the United States and South Korea," he said. "We are close partners in a broad bilateral relationship and particularly in our common approach to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula."

Ereli added: "There's a negotiation going on. And in any negotiation, you've got at least as many views as there are parties, sometimes more."

After the nuclear stand-off on the Korean peninsula rekindled in October 2002, North Korea has reactivated a graphite-moderated reactor which experts say produces greater amounts of plutonium, raw material for weapons, than light-water reactors.

North Korea currently has an old Soviet-built graphite-moderated five-megawatt experimental reactor at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon and is now building 50-megawatt and 200-megawatt reactors of similar types.

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