In what appeared to be an acknowledgement that reports of a nuclear connection between North Korea and Syria are being closely scrutinized, Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said yesterday that the six-party nuclear talks are also a venue to address proliferation concerns.
The remarks echoed comments on the subject by U.S. President George W. Bush on the same day that the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that the six-party talks will resume on Thursday for four days in Beijing.
Referring to the six-party talks, Song said, “The basic idea is proliferation. We are talking about nuclear disablement and dismantlement, but the broad concept is proliferation and the six-party talks serve to counter proliferation.”
The foreign minister said that Seoul was watching “very closely,” what Washington was saying on the issue.
Bush warned Pyongyang on Thursday, Washington time, about sharing its nuclear technology with other nations. “We expect them to honor their commitment to give up weapons and weapons programs, and to the extent that they are proliferating, we expect them to stop their proliferation,” said Bush, according to the White House Web site. He did not confirm news reports that Pyongyang had aided Syria with a clandestine nuclear program.
Song’s remarks reflect growing anxiety inside the Foreign Ministry following news reports that an Israeli attack earlier this month on a Syrian facility was prompted by nuclear cooperation between Pyongyang and Damascus. North Korea has been known to supply Syria with missiles and missile technology. Officials worry that a nuclear connection with Syria, if proven, could derail the six-party talks. With the inter-Korean summit less than two weeks away, Seoul officials, and to some extent their U.S. counterparts, have voiced cautious optimism on the prospects for the talks, now in their fifth year.
One government official familiar with the talks said that Washington and Seoul were sharing information continuously but he declined to comment further, citing the sensitivity of the issue. Another government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the focus of the upcoming talks was still the declaration of the North’s nuclear programs and the disablement of its nuclear facilities, but officials were keeping an eye on the Syria connection. “Nobody is hitting the panic button. We don’t have anything concrete, but we like to stay informed,” said the official.
The timing of the Syria allegations is bad for President Roh Moo-hyun, who has been criticized for saying he won’t discuss the nuclear issue with the North’s leader Kim Jong-il during the Oct. 2 to 4 summit. After North Korea’s nuclear test last year, Washington wanted Seoul’s active participation in a proliferation security initiative, but was turned down out of fear of raising tensions with the North.
by Brian Lee Staff Writerafricanu@joongang.co.kr