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(Yonhap Interview) N.K. actions more important than words to revive 6-party talks: Stephens
By Lee Haye-ah
SEOUL, Sept. 27 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's sincere actions will be more important than words to revive the long-stalled six-party process on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs in exchange for aid, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Seoul said, urging the communist regime to live up to its promises.

   The remarks by Ambassador Kathleen Stephens came as North Korea has been engaging in a series of rare talks with South Korea and the U.S. to reopen the six-party negotiations also involving China, Japan and Russia.

   South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, and his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong-ho, met in Beijing last Wednesday for a second round of discussions on terms for resuming the six-nation talks, last held in December 2008. This spurred widespread speculation that officials from Pyongyang and Washington will also meet for the second time in as many months in early October.

   "We were glad to see the meeting in Beijing," Amb. Stephens said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency at her residence in central Seoul on Monday.

   "We support continued efforts to improve the communication and the relationship between North and South, and we think that the weight of the responsibility is on Pyongyang to take steps to improve that relationship," she said in her final interview with the South Korean press as she wraps up her three-year tenure here.

Amb. Kathleen Stephens speaks to Yonhap News Agency at her residence in Seoul on Sept. 26. (Yonhap)

Tension ran high on the Korean Peninsula following last year's sinking of a South Korean warship, blamed on a North Korean torpedo attack, and the North's shelling of the front-line island of Yeonpyeong. The two attacks killed a total of 50 South Koreans.

   North Korea also revealed a uranium enrichment facility last November, possibly adding to its known plutonium-based program for building atomic bombs. Seoul and Washington insist the uranium program be halted in line with a six-party agreement signed in 2005 that calls for Pyongyang to abandon all nuclear weapons activities in exchange for economic and political aid.

   South Korea and the U.S. have also demanded the return of United Nations inspectors to North Korea's nuclear facilities and a moratorium on missile and nuclear testing as preconditions to reopening the six-party talks. North Korea, meanwhile, is pushing to resume the forum without any conditions attached.

   "What we've said is that actions are more important than words," Stephens said. "Through actions, we think we could see what President Obama has called a 'seriousness of purpose' ... a focus on doing something, that we think is important to ensure a six-party process that will actually lead to real and positive results."

   North Korea has built a reputation of alternately using provocations and dialogue to wrest concessions before backtracking on agreements and abandoning talks. Pyongyang quit the six-party process in April 2009 and conducted its second nuclear test a month later.

   The ambassador, who has been highly praised for her efforts to reach out to the general Korean public, recounted memories of her travels across the country and the diverse people she met along the way. She asked the Korean people for their continued interest and commitment to building South Korea-U.S. relations, saying she has only one simple but heartfelt message she would like to leave with the Korean people.

   "I want to thank everyone in Korea, who over the last maybe not just three years, but over the last several decades has even for a moment offered me their kindness, or their sharp opinion or their help. It's something I'll always be grateful for," she said as her eyes welled slightly with tears.

   Stephens will be leaving for the U.S. at the end of this week to prepare for South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's state visit to Washington next month. After that, she plans to briefly return to Seoul before moving to Georgetown University as a visiting scholar.