- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2007

SEOUL — North Korea’s No. 2 leader reiterated yesterday his country’s pledge to abandon its nuclear weapons, as the impoverished nation sought a resumption of aid at its first high-level talks with South Korea since conducting an atomic test.

Kim Yong-nam said “the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the dying wish” of the country’s founding president, Kim Il-sung, the father of current leader Kim Jong-il.

North Korea “will make efforts to realize it,” he told South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung in Pyongyang, the North’s capital.

Mr. Lee pressed for North Korea to follow through on its breakthrough Feb. 13 agreement with the United States and four other countries to shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor in 60 days, and to eventually dismantle all its atomic programs.

“It is important to make efforts to ensure that South and North Korea cooperate and six countries each assume their responsibilities,” Mr. Lee said.

Kim Yong-nam also called for the two Koreas to work together to reunify the peninsula, which was divided after World War II and remains officially at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

South Korea has been one of the North’s main aid sources since the two nations held their first and only summit in 2000. This week’s meetings are the 20th Cabinet-level talks since then.

But South Korea halted rice and fertilizer shipments to the North after it test-fired a barrage of missiles in July, and relations worsened following North Korea’s Oct. 9 underground nuclear test.

The provocations were the most serious challenge yet to South Korea’s “sunshine” policy of engagement with its longtime foe, which has been criticized by conservatives for helping prop up the North’s totalitarian regime without requiring reforms or disarmament.

South Korea has been hesitant at this week’s talks, which run through today, to immediately restart aid without seeing the North take real steps to dismantle its nuclear program.

The North wants to resume separate discussions this month on economic cooperation that would address aid, but South Korea prefers to wait until after April 14 — the deadline for Pyongyang to switch off its nuclear reactor, pool reports from South Korean journalists at the talks said.

However, the South may offer a limited amount of fertilizer if the North agrees to other conditions, such as resuming reunions of families split between the Koreas, the pool reports said. The sides may also agree on conducting trial runs of trains on restored rails across the border.

Earlier over dinner, the North’s main negotiator at the talks, Senior Cabinet Councilor Kwon Ho-ung, said “a wide road will be opened for the drastic development of North-South relations” if certain measures are implemented. He did not specify them.

Last month’s six-nation nuclear agreement has raised hopes it will foster a relaxation of regional tensions, since the deal also provides for North Korea to hold talks to normalize ties with Japan and the United States, both of which are scheduled to begin next week.

The nuclear pact also calls for negotiations to finally establish a peace agreement between the Koreas.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun urged in a speech yesterday in Seoul that the agreement “be successfully implemented so that a peace regime can be firmly established on the Korean Peninsula.”

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