South Korea's top diplomat said Thursday that North Korea's professed desire for a peaceful nuclear program should not become an issue that overshadows disarmament talks while the communist state still hasn't made a fundamental commitment to abandon atomic weapons.
The North's insistence on being allowed to keep some kind of nuclear program, such as for generating power, has emerged as an issue dividing the five countries _ China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States _ seeking to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons at international talks expected to reconvene during the week of Sept. 12 in Beijing.
The United States insists the communist nation's past record of weapons development proves it shouldn't be allowed any kind of nuclear program. But other countries, including South Korea, back the North's right in principle to have a peaceful nuclear program _ after it disarms and complies fully with international norms.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon visited Washington last week to bridge the gap with U.S. officials, and said Thursday that "we came to a common understanding that the scope of nuclear dismantlement and peaceful use of nuclear energy should not overshadow the talks as if they are the only remaining problems."
The North must first "make it quite clear that they will dismantle all nuclear weapons and nuclear programs," Ban told a meeting of diplomats and journalists.
North Korea could be allowed a peaceful atomic program only after complete dismantlement of its nuclear programs, and an agreement to return to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and implement nuclear safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ban said.
"We have not come to any agreement on this issue," he said.
The talks went into recess last month after 13 days when envoys became deadlocked on reaching an agreement on basic principles of the North's disarmament. The talks were the first in 13 months, during which the North refused to attend, citing "hostile" U.S. policies.
Negotiators had agreed to resume discussions this week, but North Korea postponed its return by two weeks in anger over U.S.-South Korean military exercises and Washington's appointment of a special envoy on North Korean human rights.
Ban said an accord on principles of the North's disarmament would only be the start of a long process.
"Even after agreement on broad principles of denuclearization, I expect that we may still have to do a lot of work to clear up the details," he said, AP reported.
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