South may first push for UN action

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South may first push for UN action

A bilateral meeting with North Korea is still in the government’s plan, but Seoul will first test Pyongyang’s sincerity over its recent conciliatory gestures by seeking international action over its uranium enrichment program, government sources told the JoongAng Ilbo.

The sources said the government is close to deciding that before pushing forward with negotiations with the North, including inter-Korean talks, it will first bring the North’s recently disclosed uranium enrichment program to the UN Security Council in order to seek condemnation of the program.

“North Korea’s uranium enrichment program is in clear violation of Security Council resolutions and thus is subject to sanction by the international community,” said a Foreign Ministry official.

“Besides, it is based on the judgment that we could move forward toward dialogue with North Korea only after easing some of anti-North Korean sentiment at home as a result of the Security Council action.”

The official said the government is also taking note of the Security Council option because it will be a litmus test of the North’s sincerity in its proposal last Wednesday of “unconditional and early” talks with the South.

“If North Korea strongly resists a Security Council measure, it will prove that its suggestion of ‘unconditional talks’ is only a tactic to divert attention, lacking sincerity,” the official said.

The government recently lowered its get-tough stance toward the North and started mentioning the possibility of a bilateral meeting between the Koreas.

But Ministry of Unification officials dismissed the North’s proposal as insincere, saying it should first apologize for the two provocations last year, including the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

The officials said the North also needs to take “sincere” steps toward abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

In mid-November, the North revealed that it had a uranium enrichment facility, which raised concerns over the North’s possible development of a nuclear weapons program beyond its plutonium-based operation.

In the aftermath of that revelation, the Security Council discussed whether to issue a chairman’s statement to denounce the North, but the discussion lost impetus due to China’s tepid reaction and the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

“Depending on the decisions of [South] Korea and the United States, the Security Council will resume discussions over a plan to sanction the North as early as next week,” said the government official.

“It is possible that the extent of the punitive measures at the Security Council will be a chairman’s statement as was discussed in November.”

The consideration of the chairman’s statement, instead of a tougher punitive action, appears possible due to a potential negative reaction from China, which has said North Korea has the right to pursue nuclear programs for peaceful use.

“If a statement denouncing the North is adopted at the Security Council in January and North Korea does not strongly respond to it, maybe we would be able to see the development of a negotiation phase such as inter-Korean talks, talks between North Korea and the U.S. and talks between North Korea and Japan as early as February,” the source said.


By Kang Chan-ho, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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