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 Thursday, 2 January, 2003, 11:22 GMT
S Korea bids to end 'nuclear stalemate'
South Korean soldiers patrol near the border with the North
South Korea has opposed sanctions against the North
South Korea has asked Beijing to try to persuade North Korea to calm the crisis over its nuclear programme, amid a flurry of international diplomacy involving the United States.

A senior South Korean envoy began talks in Beijing with a request that China use its influence to put pressure on North Korea to back down from restarting a dormant reactor that could be used to make nuclear weapons-grade material.

If North Korea's aim is to get US attention, Pyongyang has yet more cards to play

Korean expert Aidan Foster-Carter

The visit by deputy foreign minister Lee Tae-shik comes after US President George W Bush said he hoped the dispute could be resolved peacefully.

Correspondents say China - North Korea's main ally - has been very reluctant so far to exert direct pressure on an already unstable country.

South Korea will dispatch a senior official to Moscow - another of North Korea's main allies - on Friday.

Mr Lee met Chinese vice foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday and asked Beijing to actively persuade the North to stop Pyongyang from aggravating the situation any further, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap

The two men agreed to work together to resolve the crisis "through dialogue", a senior South Korean diplomat said.

Earlier in the week, Pyongyang said it had no choice but to reactivate its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, 90km (60 miles) north of the capital, because the US was planning a pre-emptive strike against them.

The facilities were mothballed as part of a 1994 accord which now appears to be in tatters.

United Nations nuclear inspectors have also left North Korea after they were ordered out by Pyongyang.

But an International Atomic Energy Agency spokeswoman said the agency hoped to return.

Continued defiance

Tensions about North Korea have increased since October, when the US said North Korea had admitted to having a separate, secret nuclear programme.

Satellite picture of Yongbyon complex (AFP picture)
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US says
14 Nov: Oil shipments to N Korea halted
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Yongbyon nuclear plant
26 Dec: UN says 1,000 fuel rods have been moved to the plant
31 Dec: UN nuclear inspectors leave North Korea
31 Dec: N Korea threatens to pull out of NPT nuclear treaty

A flurry of diplomacy has taken place since then, including visits by high-level US officials to both Beijing and Seoul.

President Bush this week said it was hoped Pyongyang's old allies would play a more active role in trying to persuade North Korea to halt its nuclear programme again.

"I view the North Korean situation as one that can be resolved peacefully through diplomacy," he said, while adding that "all options, of course, are always on the table."

Correspondents say South Korea has strongly opposed the notion of sanctions being applied to the North, saying this could have devastating consequences.

North Korea continues its defiance of the US. State newspapers said this would be a year of hard struggle and top priority would be given to strengthening the military.

Our correspondent says the population is being rallied for a lengthy confrontation with the outside world, and it will be hard for the regime to back down without extracting some concessions.

Yongbyon: Five-megawatt experimental nuclear power reactor and partially completed plutonium extraction facility. Activities at site frozen under 1994 Agreed Framework
Taechon: 200-MWt nuclear power reactor - construction halted under Agreed Framework
Pyongyang: Laboratory-scale "hot cells" that may have been used to extract small quantities of plutonium
Kumho: Two 1,000-MWt light water reactors being built under Agreed Framework

  The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"US support for diplomacy may not last"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

01 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
29 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
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