- Associated Press - Friday, January 14, 2011

SEOUL (AP) — New international disarmament talks with North Korea are possible only if the North backs off recent aggression against South Korea and demonstrates it is willing to bargain in good faith, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday.

Mr. Gates said diplomacy is worthwhile, starting with direct talks between the North and South. South Korea has rejected new talks for now, reflecting intense anger and impatience over North Korean attacks.

Mr. Gates attached no conditions to possible new discussions between the North and South beyond an end to attacks like two in the past year blamed for killing about 50 South Koreans.

He insisted on “concrete steps” by the North for new talks involving the United States.

“When or if North Korea’s actions show cause to believe negotiations could be productive or conducted in good faith, then we could see a return” to dormant six-nation disarmament talks, Mr.  Gates said.

Those talks include the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas.

Mr. Gates made a brief stop in Seoul for crisis talks on North Korea to close a week of military discussions in Asia clouded by the threat of new war on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin told Mr. Gates that his country feels under attack.

South Korea sees recent North Korean aggression as the worst since the close of the Korean War six decades ago.

“Many expect North Korea to conduct more provocation this year,” Mr. Kim said.

South Korea must answer “from the basis of strength,” he added.

Mr. Gates and Mr. Kim also discussed cooperating militarily to deter aggression by North Korea and urged the North to abandon its nuclear programs and “military adventurism,” South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, without elaborating.

In a meeting with Mr. Gates, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called for cooperation between Seoul and Washington in resolving North Korean issues this year, Mr. Lee’s spokeswoman Kim Hee-jung said in a briefing. Mr. Lee’s urgency comes amid concerns the North is working to solidify its military and atomic strength as it has set 2012 — the centenary of late North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung’s birth — as a goal for building a “great, prosperous and powerful country.”

The United States fears that the risk of war is rising between U.S. ally South Korea and the heavily militarized and increasingly unpredictable regime in North Korea, which the Pentagon also considers a looming threat to the mainland United States.

North Korea purportedly sank a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors, and shelled front-line Yeonpyeong Island in November, killing four people there. The island sits in waters the North claims.

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