Seoul to insist talks are separate on attacks, nukes

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Seoul to insist talks are separate on attacks, nukes

The South Korean government sees the denuclearization of North Korea and the North’s provocations last year as two separate issues, according to a high-ranking government source.

The provocations, which refer to the Cheonan sinking and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, are intended to be addressed in military talks.

If talks over denuclearization and provocations are separated, it would signify that South Korea, as well as the other six-party talks nations, could engage in nuclear talks with the North without a direct apology from Pyongyang for the sinking of the Cheonan.

North Korea has denied attacking the warship.

“The government has not changed its stance that it could [engage] in talks, including six-party talks, with the North even if the North does not apologize for the sinking of the Cheonan,” said the source yesterday.

“Although the Cheonan sinking and the Yeonpyeong Island shelling are both issues close to our hearts, denuclearization is a much more important issue at hand here,” the source said.

The statement comes as the South Korean Ministry of National Defense waits for a response from the North to a request it made Wednesday for preparatory talks on Feb. 11 ahead of high-level military talks.

The Ministry of Unification also made an offer to discuss the North’s sincerity in giving up its nuclear arms, also on Feb. 11.

If South Korea were to refuse to talk with North Korea about denuclearization, which the North has indicated it wants to do, the other countries involved in the six-party talks could question whether Seoul is blocking those talks by grouping the provocations and denuclearization together, the source said.

As Seoul displays a more flexible position in dealing with the North, the Lee Myung-bak administration also believes that it is imperative for the North to talk with Seoul first before it can converse with other countries, especially the U.S.

“The U.S. will never talk one-on-one with the North without confirmation of Pyongyang’s willingness to denuclearize through inter-Korean talks. On this point the U.S. and South Korea are strongly aligned,” said the source.

“North Korea could hold out for a few more months, demanding separate talks with the U.S., but they will accept there is no way out other than talks with South Korea. They will accept [the request] for inter-Korean talks in a few months at longest,” said the source.

By Kang Chan-ho, Christine Kim []
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