Wednesday, December 29, 2010

South Korea urges talks to disarm North Korea

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak (C)

Source: Press TV

South Korea has adopted a softer tone on North Korea's nuclear issue, calling for a revival of international talks with Pyongyang to shut down its nuclear program.

"(We) have no choice but to resolve the problem of dismantling North Korea's nuclear program diplomatically through the six-party talks," South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said as he received a 2011 policy report from the foreign ministry on Wednesday, AFP reported.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula after a November 23 artillery fire exchange which left four South Koreans, including two civilians, dead. The incident turned many heads as it became the first shelling of a civilian area in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.

The crisis further deepened over rounds of joint military drills South Korea held with the United States despite threats of retaliation from Pyongyang.

While the North backed down on its threats in a change of tone, Russia and China are making efforts to resume talks with the North to further ease high tensions.

A US diplomat who visited Pyongyang this month said the North had agreed with the return of UN nuclear inspectors and to dispose of fuel rods outside the country.

Lee on Wednesday said the international community is pressed for time to denuclearize the North, which has set the 100th anniversary of founder Kim Il-Sung's birth in 2012 as the year to become a "great, powerful and prosperous" nation.

Therefore, we "should certainly achieve the dismantlement of its nuclear program next year," he insisted.

The North shut down its elderly plutonium-producing reactor in 2007 under a disarmament deal reached in six-party talks which involved the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US. The talks failed in April 2009 following new inter-Korean tensions.

In October, Pyongyang unveiled a uranium enrichment plant which US officials claimed could easily be converted to produce weapons-grade uranium. But North Korea says its new plant is solely aimed at fueling a light-water reactor being built to produce energy.

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