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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 08:17 GMT
N Korea agrees to talks with Seoul
North Korean rally calls for more powerful military, 7 January 2003
North Korea's true intentions remain a mystery
North Korea has agreed to hold talks with the South Korean Government, at which Seoul says it will put pressure on the North over its nuclear programme.

The meeting will be the latest in a series of rapprochement talks between the two sides since their historic summit in 2000, but the BBC correspondent in Seoul says the timing is highly significant.

DMZ
The talks will cover inter-Korean projects
The ministerial-level meeting will be the first since North Korea began reactivating a nuclear plant, which is believed to be capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.

But so far, the Stalinist North has made no response to a US offer of talks, or to demands by the United Nations nuclear watchdog to allow its inspectors - expelled last week - back into the country.

South Korean officials said the North had proposed starting the four-day meeting on 21 January - a week later than the South had suggested.

But our correspondent, Caroline Gluck, says South Korea will be relieved the talks are going ahead at all.

President Kim Dae-jung and his government believe dialogue is the best way to tackle the nuclear controversy.

South Korean officials have been engaged in a flurry of diplomatic activity around the world, hoping to resolve the crisis peacefully.

A recent success was Washington's renewed readiness to talk to North Korea.

The US had earlier said it would not engage in dialogue unless Pyongyang first scrapped its nuclear programme. But after talks with South Korean and Japanese diplomats, it reversed its decision.

International concerns

South Korean officials have said they will use the meeting with the North to raise international concerns about Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, and to urge the North to dismantle its nuclear programme.

South Korea's National Security Adviser, Yim Sung-joon, said on Wednesday that the US had endorsed his plan to utilise the South's existing channels of dialogue with the North to resolve the stand-off.

North Korea accuses Washington of planning to use the North's decision to reactivate the nuclear facility at Yongbyon as an excuse for a pre-emptive nuclear attack.

CRISIS CHRONOLOGY
South Korean veterans burn a North Korean flag during a pro-US rally in South Korea (AFP)
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
6 Jan: IAEA demands inspectors be readmitted and secret weapons programme halted
7 Jan: US "willing to talk" to North Korea
Pyongyang has called on the US to sign a pact promising not to attack the North, even though Washington has repeatedly said it has no intention of invading.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell struck a conciliatory tone during an interview recorded this week with Public Radio International.

"We recognise that North Korea is a country in difficult economic straits, and we want to help," he said.

"But in order for the international community to help, they [the North Koreans] have to forswear their efforts to develop a nuclear bomb."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Wednesday that "the ball is in North Korea's court now to respond" to the US talks offer.

Analysts believe that North Korea's nuclear activity could simply be a diplomatic gambit designed to extract political and economic concessions from the US.

But Mr Fleischer warned that the North "should certainly not expect the United States to give them additional inducements to honour old agreements".

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Caroline Gluck reports from Seoul
"The outcome is still far from clear"
  Kim Sang Woo, South Korean foreign affairs adviser:
"We will make it clear that no one wants to see a nuclear North Korea"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

08 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
07 Jan 03 | Media reports
07 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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