- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

SEOUL — The two Koreas yesterday failed to agree on a format for talks on resolving a dispute over the North’s nuclear weapons program, saying only that they will pursue “appropriate” venues.

After an overnight meeting at a Seoul hotel, South Korean negotiators settled for a vaguely worded statement while agreeing to maintain economic and other contacts with the North.

The United States rejects direct dialogue with Pyongyang to resolve the standoff, arguing that it is an international problem. The two Koreas previously issued pledges to cooperate in resolving the nuclear crisis, but a breakthrough does not appear imminent.

“The South and North expressed concern over the recent situation on the Korean Peninsula and agreed that joint efforts are needed to sustain peace and safety on the peninsula,” negotiators said in a joint statement.

North Korean chief delegate Kim Ryong-song and South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun shook hands and said they “agreed to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully through an appropriate method of dialogue.”

The nuclear dispute flared in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted it had a clandestine nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement with Washington.

The United States and its allies suspended fuel shipments promised under the 1994 deal, and Pyongyang retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, restarting nuclear facilities and withdrawing from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

The prepared statement yesterday fell short of South Korean hopes it could persuade North Korea to agree to discuss the nuclear issue in multilateral talks that could include the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

North Korea has said it first wants one-on-one talks with the United States, which it views as its main enemy.

In a statement, South Korea said it believed the meetings in Seoul had “created the atmosphere” for North Korea’s participation in multilateral talks.

Shin Eun-sang, a South Korean spokesman, said the South told the North that “anti-U.S. cooperation” was not possible. North Korea often tries to disrupt the U.S.-South Korean alliance with appeals for cross-border solidarity.

The delegates at the Cabinet-level talks agreed to hold temporary reunions of separated family members at the North’s Diamond Mountain resort around a national holiday period on Sept. 11, as well as more high-level talks in Pyongyang on Oct. 14-17. They also agreed to hold talks in Seoul on Aug. 26-29 on economic projects.

Their joint statement said the two countries would cooperate in enabling civic groups from both sides to celebrate the anniversary of the Korean peninsula’s Aug. 15, 1945, liberation from Japanese colonial rule.

They agreed to consider ending “slanderous broadcasts” against each other. Over the decades, the two countries have blasted patriotic songs and other programs over loudspeakers at the tense Demilitarized Zone dividing the peninsula.

The negotiators said they would cooperate in working on a permanent center for reunions of separated families at Diamond Mountain, although no date was set.

Separately, the United States said Friday it still wants the U.N. Security Council to condemn North Korea’s nuclear program, despite the communist country’s efforts to persuade member nations not to take sides on the issue.

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