- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, April 18 (UPI) — Following a North Korean request for rice and fertilizer, South Korea Friday asked Pyongyang to resume inter-Korea talks, after they were canceled last month.

Seoul made the request after criticizing North Korea for asking for economic aid, while excluding South Korea from next week's nuclear talks in China. North Korea has refused to include Seoul in the talks, saying it was the United States with whom they wanted to negotiate.

North Korea's rejection has triggered sharp criticism in South Korea, which is facing direct threats from its communist neighbor. Doubts on North Korea was further raised after Pyongyang requested rice and fertilizer aid, stressing they are "one nation that have to cooperate on the principle of fraternity."

"We urge North Korea to come early to inter-Korean talks to discuss a broad range of pending issues, including the preservation of peace on the Korean peninsula," the Unification Ministry said in a statement.

The statement also said the ministry welcomed planned three-party talks, involving the United States, North Korea and China, to be held Beijing on Wednesday to discuss a solution to the North Korean nuclear standoff.

"The government thinks it is a good move to have the three-way talks open on the North Korean nuclear issue and on paving the way for a peaceful settlement," the statement said.

Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said North Korea should make efforts to improve ties with the South, while at the same time discussing security issues with the United States.

A ministry official described Friday's statement as a move to save face.

"The government is in principle ready to provide humanitarian aid to the North. But we also have to consider growing public criticism here over the North's rejection to Seoul's participation in the nuclear talks," the official told United Press International on condition of anonymity.

Some analysts consider the North's rice and fertilizer request as a sign that it would resume contacts with the South. "The request is largely aimed at testing Seoul's willingness to revive dialogue with the North even though is was excluded from the talks on nuclear," said Kim Young-so, a North Korea analysts at Sogang University.

Senior officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan were scheduled to meet in Washington later Friday to discuss the agenda for next week's talks on North Korea, officials said.

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