S.Korea rejects North's offer to discuss uranium at talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:21 AM

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's foreign minister on Thursday rejected North Korea's offer to discuss its uranium enrichment programme at a new round of six-party talks, saying it fell far short of what was needed to restart the stalled process.

A resumption of the six-way talks would be a key advance in international efforts to end the North's nuclear ambitions, but regional powers are wary of Pyongyang's sincerity, citing its past failure to abide by deals it signed before walking away from the process two years ago.

The North has been calling for fresh talks since, driven according to analysts by increasingly tight economic conditions as sanctions cut deeply into its once lucrative arms trade.

The North said on Tuesday that it was prepared to take part in a new round of talks "with no preconditions" and was willing to discuss the uranium enrichment issue.

"That is far short of what is needed," Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan told a news briefing. "The North must show with action, not words, its sincerity about its commitment," he added.

Last November, the North stunned the world with revelations of major advances in its uranium enrichment programme at a previously unknown location, which would open a second route to making nuclear arms alongside its plutonium programme.

Pyongyang says the uranium programme is for peaceful, energy-producing purposes.

The United States and South Korea have said they want the U.N. Security Council to review the North's uranium enrichment programme, arguing it breaches existing agreements.

But Kim conceded that it would be some time before the Security Council, currently busy with discussions over possible action against Libya, would deliberate on North Korea.

An agreement in 2005 by South and North Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China to compensate the North for actions to dismantle its nuclear programme fell apart before full implementation after Pyongyang rejected intrusive inspections.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner)