South Korea urges North Korea to end nuclear dispute

South Korea urged North Korea on Wednesday to resolve a standoff over its nuclear ambitions, describing ongoing international nuclear disarmament talks in Beijing as a historic opportunity to end the dispute.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young issued the plea at inter-Korean Cabinet-level talks under way in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, according to pool reports.

The ministerial meeting coincided with six-country negotiations in Beijing aimed at getting the North to give up its nuclear weapons program. That meeting, which involves the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia, resumed Tuesday after more than a month's recess, but initial indications were not positive, the AP says.

"I think (the North) should not lose this chance ... (it) must seize on this historic opportunity," Chung told the meeting, referring to the Beijing talks.

Chung's North Korean counterpart, Kwon Ho Ung, a senior Cabinet counselor, avoided a direct response to the appeal, saying only that the two Koreas should end their national division that he said was caused by "outside forces," the reports said.

The main snag in the Beijing talks was North Korea's insistence on its right to a civilian nuclear program. The United States maintains that North Korea must give up all nuclear programs, peaceful or otherwise, as it has a record of breaching promises not to pursue atomic weapons.

"We explained (to the North) that the Korean Peninsula must be denuclearized," Kim Chun-sig, one of the South Korean delegates, told reporters after the 80-minute talks in Pyongyang, according to the pool reports.

North Korea cites an acute energy shortage in arguing that it needs a civilian nuclear program. In July, South Korea offered to provide the North with 2,000 megawatts of power if the communist state gives up its nuclear program, but the proposal failed to impress Pyongyang.

The South also proposed a second inter-Korean defense ministers' meeting to discuss ways of easing military tension across their heavily fortified border and a project to determine the fate of South Korean prisoners of war and abductees believed to be alive in the North, Kim said, according to pool reports.

The first inter-Korean defense ministers' talks were held on South Korea's Jeju Island in 2000.

On photo: South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young.

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