North Korea's chief negotiator Kim Ryong Song, left, with South Korean counterpart Jeong Se-hyun.
Ahn Young-joon  /  Pool via AP
North Korea's chief negotiator Kim Ryong Song, left, looks at his South Korean counterpart Jeong Se-hyun at a meeting in Seoul, on Tuesday.
updated 2/4/2004 8:03:54 AM ET 2004-02-04T13:03:54

North Korea on Wednesday demanded compensation from the United States for freezing its nuclear weapons programs as a first step in resolving a 15-month standoff, as preparations began for key nuclear talks later this month.

The comments came during high-level talks in Seoul between North and South Korean officials.

“The United States has not at all changed its demand that we first give up our nuclear programs,” the North’s chief negotiator Kim Ryong Song said, according to pool reports.

“What is important is resolving the issue through our proposal of simultaneous action.”

A South Korean delegate at the Cabinet-level inter-Korean talks in Seoul said North Korea’s offers didn’t go far enough and asked North Korea to be more flexible.

“We urged North Korea to take a more progressive position on the dismantlement of the nuclear programs in general because it will be difficult to resolve the nuclear issue in the near future just with North Korea’s offer of a freeze in exchange for compensation,” delegate Shin Eon-sang said during a break in the meetings. Life on the knife's edge

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon also said the government hopes the six-nation talks will generate an outcome in which North Korea “publicly declares” it will dismantle its nuclear programs in a “complete, verifiable and irreversible” way.

“If the North Koreans do this, it will provide a very important turning point in peacefully resolving the nuclear issue,” Ban told reporters.

Ban added that South Korea and Japan share Washington’s view that North Korea has a secret uranium-based weapons program in addition to a plutonium-based one. Washington has demanded North Korea dismantle both, but North Korea has denied possessing any uranium-based program.

“If North Korea has intentions to give up its nuclear programs, it must also give up HEU (highly enriched uranium) programs as well as plutonium,” Ban said.

Outside the venue, Seoul’s Shilla Hotel, about 20 South Korean protesters shouted slogans such as “Stop all South-North Korean exchanges until North Korea dismantles its nuclear programs!” About 50 police officers were on hand, but no clashes were reported.

Second round of 6-way talks
Six-nations talks on settling the issue had faltered for months over disagreements on the ground rules for negotiations. A first round between the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas ended in August in Beijing without much progress.

North Korea agreed Tuesday to hold a second round Feb. 25.

North Korea has insisted it needs a nuclear “deterrent” against a possible U.S. attack. But it has said it would suspend its nuclear programs as a first step in easing tensions if Washington lifts sanctions, resumes oil shipments and removes North Korea from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

The United States has said North Korea must first begin dismantling its nuclear programs. U.S. officials believe the North already has one or two nuclear bombs and could make several more within months.

South Korea’s Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, Kim’s counterpart, called for mutual understanding from participants in the nuclear talks to “remove the stone blocking the way to the gold.”

The South Korean minister also said inter-Korean projects meant to promote reconciliation on the divided Korean Peninsula would gain further momentum if the nuclear standoff is eased.

The North-South meetings are the highest-level regular contacts between the rival Koreas. This week’s talks, scheduled to run through Friday, are the 13th round since the historic June 2000 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

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