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(News Focus) Denuclearization likely on agenda of inter-Korean meeting

2013/06/10 10:46

By Lee Joon-seung

SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- Denuclearization has consistently been on the agenda of past inter-Korean talks and will likely be touched upon at the upcoming South-North Korea government meeting set for this week in Seoul, sources said Monday.

Earlier in the day, representatives from the two sides agreed to hold a senior-level meeting on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss such matters as the standoff over the Kaesong Industrial Complex, the Mount Kumgang tours and reunions for families separated by the Korean War.

According to the sources familiar with past contacts made between the two Koreas, Seoul has persistently raised the denuclearization issue at these "ministerial-level" meetings from 2002 onwards. The two Koreas held 21 ministerial negotiations from 2000 through 2007 to touch on various outstanding issues facing the two sides.

"For more than a decade, Seoul had used the talks to raise its concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons development program," a Pyongyang watcher said.

He pointed out that such issues as the North's uranium enrichment program (UEP) and the North's declaration to leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) have been mentioned by South Korea.

On the UEP issue, South Korean officials at the eighth ministerial meeting held in Pyongyang in October 2002 expressed grave concerns to their counterparts. At that time the North said it was willing to alleviate concerns raised if the United States halted its belligerent policy stance against Pyongyang.

In regards to the NPT issue, South Korean delegates at the ninth meeting urged the North not to take drastic measures and received a reply that the communist country was not seeking to become a nuclear power.

The high-level officials' meetings that took place in 2003 were helpful in getting the North to accept multilateral talks that developed into the six-party talks.

In addition, Seoul objected to the North's attempt to reprocess spent fuel rods from its graphite moderated reactor in Yongbyon as well using the meetings to remind the North of its pledge to fulfill the Sept. 19, 2005 joint declaration. This declaration called for verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.

The Ministry of Unification, which handles dialogue with the North, said it cannot confirm if denuclearization will be raised, but officials did not rule it out.

"All matters that can enhance peace and stability can be discussed at the two-day talks," said a ministry official, who declined to be identified.

"Seoul may actually be more vocal since the North detonated its third nuclear device on Feb. 12 in the face of strong warnings by the international community," he said.

Last year, the North included a clause in its constitution that made clear it is a nuclear power, and its leader Kim Jong-un started calling for the country to simultaneously push forward for economic construction and the building of its nuclear force this year.

Seoul has said that such a move is bound to fail and further trigger the country's isolation from the rest of the world.

Senior South Korean officials have started to hint that Seoul may link economic cooperation with denuclearization.

Besides denuclearization, South Korea may ask the North for solid assurances that it will not unilaterally close down the Kaesong complex and secure guarantees that the North will not endanger South Koreans who visit Mount Kumgang on the east coast.

The tours to the mountain resort were stopped after a North Korean guard shot and killed a South Korean tourist, while business at Kaesong was hurt because Pyongyang ordered all 53,000 of its laborers there not to report to work in early April.

There has even been speculation that Seoul may demand an official apology for the shelling of an island in the Yellow Sea by North Korean artillery in late 2010 that left four people dead and the sinking of one of its warships eight months earlier. The torpedoing of the Cheonan claimed 46 lives. The North said it was not involved in the sinking.

Other North Korean experts said that while Seoul will mention the need for denuclearization and remind the North that it had said on numerous occasions that it isn't seeking a nuclear arsenal, policymakers may not press the issue.

"Since Seoul wants progress made on inter-Korean exchange, it may not seriously pursue the issue," a source said.