- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 2 (UPI) — South Korea and China on Thursday agreed to work to defuse tensions created by North Korea's moves to acquire nuclear weapons, sources have told United Press International.

Meeting with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, South Korea's deputy foreign minister urged Beijing to put more pressure on its ally, North Korea, to halt its weapons program, officials in Seoul said.

"Lee (Tae-shik) and Wang agreed in principle to use diplomacy in tackling the North Korean nuclear issue," a senior official at the Foreign Ministry told UPI. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the two countries "will work to prevent the situation from further aggravating."

Lee, who was visiting Beijing to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear issue, conveyed Seoul's stance that North Korea's expression of willingness to give up its uranium enrichment program should be the starting point in settling the crisis, the official said.

According to the U.S. administration, North Korea admitted to having a uranium-enrichment program — a necessary step to build nuclear warheads — in October. In response, the United States suspended fuel shipments that were part of a 1994 agreement with North Korea. Fuel oil had been promised provided North Korea shut its plutonium-based nuclear program. Last month, North Korea took steps to restart its plutonium processes, declaring it needed the energy resources from nuclear power plants.

"China is a very important country that can use its influence on North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambition," the official said.

Lee's trip to Beijing was part of a flurry of diplomatic endeavors to muster international support to stop the North's moves to restart its nuclear program. All the major powers with concerns in the region — including Japan, China, Russia and the United States — have been involved.

In Seoul, Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong said South Korea would seek "total mobilization of diplomatic resources" to win support from allies the United States and Japan, as well as the European Union, China and Russia, to resolve the nuclear issue in a peaceful manner.

"We will mobilize all diplomatic means available to seek an early solution to the nuclear issue because it is directly related with our security and economy," he said. "A lesson we should draw from the earlier 1993-94 nuclear crisis is that (South) Korea should take a more active lead in the search for diplomatic, peaceful resolution to the crisis," Choi said.

Another South Korean envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Hang-kyong, is scheduled to leave Friday for Moscow to ask Russia's efforts to dissuade Pyongyang from its nuclear ambitions. Russia has warned North Korea not to back out of its international treaty obligations.

"We will ask strongly for the Russian government to make more efforts to secure a peaceful resolution to the North's nuclear problem," a South Korean diplomat said, requesting that he not be named.

And next week senior officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan will meet for three-way talks on North Korea in Washington. Shortly thereafter, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will visit Seoul to discuss North Korea, officials said.

U.S. President George W. Bush said Thursday he believed talks were the only way to resolve the issue.

"I believe the situation with North Korea will be resolved peacefully," he told reporters at his ranch in Texas. "As I said, it's a diplomatic issue, not a military issue, and we're working all fronts.

" … We are working with friends and allies in the region to explain clearly to North Korea it's not in their nation's interest to develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction."

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi will travel to Seoul in mid-January. The Seoul government has been in close consultation with European countries that have diplomatic missions in Pyongyang, officials said.

Meanwhile, Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun dismissed North Korea's overtures to form a united front against the United States, vowing to take a "forward-looking" step to ease the crisis over its nuclear programs.

"The survival of the Korean people will depend on how the nuclear issue will play out. We must find a peaceful solution that would make both the North and South and all countries concerned winners," Jeong said.

North Korea has unleashed a fresh wave of rhetoric against the United States, vowing to counter Washington's "provocative and military pressure" by beefing up its military strength.

"Our party's revolutionary idea of giving top priority to the army is the most steadfast idea of independence against imperialism," North Korea's three state newspapers said in a joint New Year editorial.

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(With Richard Tomkins in Washington)


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