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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cracks appear in US-Korea front on North

Financial Times: The US and South Korea tried to present a united front on the North Korean nuclear crisis on Thursday, again warning of “grave consequences” if there is a second test, but they remained at odds over how to punish Kim Jong-il’s regime.

As China sent a special envoy to Pyongyang to speak directly to Mr Kim about last week’s nuclear test, Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, arrived in Seoul amid stern domestic criticism of Washington’s apparent attempts to pressure the South Korean government to stop economic engagement with the North.

The South Korean government says it may “improve” rather than suspend its joint tourism and commercial projects with North Korea, but senior US officials have made it clear they view the Mount Kumgang tourist resort as a “cash cow” for the North. South Korea has sent about $950m to North Korea since the tours began in 1998.

“I did not come to South Korea, nor will I go anywhere else, to try to dictate to governments what they ought to do in response to [United Nations] resolution 1718,” Ms Rice told a press conference on Thursday after meeting Roh Moo-hyun, South Korea’s president, and Ban Ki-moon, foreign minister.

“What I do think is very important is that everyone takes stock of the leverage that we have to get North Korea to return to the six-party talks and to negotiate serious the dismantlement of its nuclear weapons programme,” she said.

The day before the talks, Song Min-soon, the president’s chief security adviser, suggested at a conference that the US needed to pay more attention to South Korea’s unique security situation, adding that the US “has fought more wars than any other nation in the history of its establishment and survival”.

In addition to the inter-Korean co-operation projects, the two parties are at odds over South Korea’s involvement in the proliferation security initiative aimed at interdicting ships carrying weapons of mass destruction technology. But Seoul is reluctant to join, again for fear of upsetting the fragile security balance.

However, Ms Rice and Mr Ban on Thursday insisted the US-South Korean alliance “could not be stronger”, with the US secretary of state saying they were now discussing how inspections and interdiction at sea might work.

“The US has no desire to do anything to escalate this,” Ms Rice said. “The key is to live up to the obligations that all of us undertook, that North Korea should not be able to traffic in weapons or weapons technology, nor should they be able to receive help, assistance, financing for their nuclear weapons programmes.”

Meanwhile, Mr Ban warned North Korea that a second test would “aggravate” the current situation. “We agreed that in case it happens, there should be more grave consequences,” he said.

In Beijing, the Chinese foreign ministry said the state councillor Tang Jianxuan had been sent to Pyongyang as a special envoy for President Hu Jiantao, and had met Kim Jong-il on Thursday.

In a regular press briefing, the foreign ministry spokesman said the envoy’s visit was “very meaningful to the relations between the two countries and the current situation on the Korean peninsula”. But it did not give details of the message from Mr Hu.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Mr Tang arrived in Pyongyang on Wednesday with vice foreign ministers Dai Bingguo and Wu Dawei, who is also China’s chief negotiator in the stalled six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme.

Ms Rice on Thursday said she had not yet received a “read out” on the meeting.
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