- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 17, 2005

JEJU, South Korea — North Korea yesterday signaled its willingness to quickly implement an agreement to abandon its nuclear programs but refused to directly commit to more six-nation nuclear negotiations during high-level talks with South Korea.

At talks in September, the North agreed to abandon its nuclear programs in exchange for security guarantees and aid, but no progress has been made on carrying out the accord. North Korea has threatened to boycott further negotiations until the United States lifts financial sanctions against it for purported money laundering and counterfeiting.

In the statement yesterday, however, the two Koreas said the September agreement “has to be implemented soon … for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue in accordance to common security and benefits of the people.”

However, South Korea failed to secure a firm commitment from the North to rejoin the six-nation talks, which also include the United States, Japan, Russia and China.

In October, Washington sanctioned eight North Korean companies it said acted as fronts for proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The North denies the claim.

Alexander Vershbow, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, labeled the North a “criminal regime” in remarks last week, saying it was the first government to take part in counterfeiting since Adolf Hitler’s Germany. The North said the remarks were tantamount to a declaration of war and called for Mr. Vershbow’s expulsion.

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, head of the South Korean delegation to the inter-Korean talks, travels tomorrow to Washington where he is expected to relay the North’s position and try to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.

The two Koreas also agreed yesterday to increase economic cooperation and conduct more reunions of Koreans divided by their heavily fortified border. In addition, they pledged to hold military talks next year to prevent conflicts along the border.

Washington has strongly urged the South to link its economic cooperation with the North to progress at the nuclear talks. Recently, the United States and South Korea have publicly differed over Seoul’s “sunshine policy” of engagement with its neighbor.

Since the first-ever summit of leaders of the divided Koreas in June 2000, ties between the two longtime rivals have significantly warmed. The talks this week on South Korea’s Jeju island were the 17th such high-level meeting.

The next high-level Korean talks were scheduled for late March in Pyongyang.

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