- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 3, 2007

South Korea’s foreign minister said yesterday that North Korea must abandon all aspects of its nuclear endeavors, including a suspected uranium enrichment program, as part of a deal to solve the peninsula’s nuclear crisis, even if the program has barely gotten off the ground.

Song Min-soon, Seoul’s minister for foreign affairs and trade, sidestepped new questions over the state of Pyongyang’s uranium-enrichment program, the key charge in the Bush administration’s case that the North had violated past agreements to halt its nuclear weapons programs.

“Whether [the uranium program] is just a single piece of paper or actual, tangible facilities, all these efforts should be abolished in the course of implementing” the six-nation deal reached Feb. 13 to end the North’s nuclear programs, Mr. Song said on a visit to Washington.

The South Korean envoy made the comment just before a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in which the recent North Korea nuclear deal reached Feb. 13 in Beijing was a prime topic of conversation.

The latest nuclear crisis on the divided Korean Peninsula dates back to 2002, when Bush administration officials said the North admitted it was secretly enriching uranium even as it suspended a parallel plutonium program to make nuclear bombs. The North has denied it made the admission, and U.S. intelligence officials now say they do not know the scope of the North’s uranium programs.

In Pyongyang yesterday, officials from the North and South agreed to work on the first phases of the Feb. 13 accord, as well as on reuniting divided families, testing a pan-Korean rail link and preparing new shipments of aid to the North.

“The South and the North will work jointly to ensure a sound implementation of the agreement on denuclearizing and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the two sides said in a joint statement issued after four days of ministerial-level talks.

The Beijing deal calls for a phased end to all the North’s nuclear programs in return for aid, energy and the prospect of full diplomatic relations with the United States and countries in the region.

But South Korean officials yesterday refused to restore full aid shipments until the North’s main nuclear reactor facility had been shut down. Seoul suspended aid after the North’s missile tests last summer, and Pyongyang responded by cutting diplomatic contacts and meetings of divided families.

The South agreed verbally to provide the North with rice and fertilizer, but did not specify the date of delivery or the amount to be shipped.

“We plan to provide rice and fertilizer at the level of previous years,” South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung told reporters, “but we will do it in stages, following the necessary process.”

In Washington, Mr. Song said he planned to coordinate closely with Washington as the nuclear deal moves ahead.

Some U.S. conservatives have criticized the deal, saying the North will pocket the promised aid and renege again on promises to end its nuclear programs. But Mr. Song said “speculation” about whether Pyongyang could be trusted was “rather futile,” and the key will be convincing the North that its own best interests lie in denuclearization.

“Showing North Korea that the clouds hovering over it have a silver lining will help dispel its sense of insecurity so it may breathe comfortably in its nuclear-free future,” he said. “In this case security is a subjective state of mind rather than an objective condition of being.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, said yesterday its director, Mohamed ElBaradei, would be making a two-day visit to Pyongyang starting March 13 — five years after the North expelled IAEA inspectors and resumed plutonium production for nuclear bombs.

The North’s chief negotiator is also in the United States, preparing for unprecedented talks next week with U.S. officials on the opening of diplomatic relations. The talks are expected to take place next week.

Andrew Salmon reported from Seoul.

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