PM says South wants to continue nuclear talks even without North

Seoul is pushing to continue multinational talks over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, even if they do not include the North.

South Korean army troops patrol the eastern coastal areas bordering North Korea at predawn hours in Goseong on June 19, 2009. North Korea has accused US President Barack Obama of plotting a nuclear war on the communist nation by reaffirming the US security assurance for South Korea.   AFP PHOTO/WON DAI-YEON *** Local Caption ***  234989-01-08.jpg *** Local Caption ***  234989-01-08.jpg
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Faced with the increasing security threat posed by its next-door neighbour, South Korea is pushing to continue multinational talks over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, even if they do not include the North, the prime minister of South Korea, Han Seung-soo, said yesterday. North Korea "has closed this door completely", he said, referring to the six-party talks between the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The meetings are aimed at offering incentives to Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programme. After its second nuclear test last month, Pyongyang said it was leaving the talks, which have been held intermittently in Beijing since 2003.

Mr Han told The National that his government wants to rearrange talks to reach consensus on the way forward, despite Pyongyang's refusal to re-engage. "If North Korea is not going to be a part of the six-party talks, then at least five-party talks," he said. "We should meet and discuss what we should do in the next few weeks in view of the North Korean nuclear programmes." But Mr Han said there has been no response yet from China, which has been the North's strongest ally and the country often considered to have the greatest leverage over Pyongyang.

Besides its second nuclear test, North Korea tested a range of missiles in May. It has jailed two US journalists, which it says entered the country illegally, and it is holding a South Korean citizen on charges of espionage. China supported a UN resolution to tighten sanctions on North Korea, but Mr Han said he is unsure about how much influence it really has over the North. "China is one of the closest countries to North Korea, so in that respect they have been doing their share to discourage North Korea from the build-up of nuclear facilities; I'm quite confident of that," he said. "But how much leverage they have over North Korea is a question mark."

Lower-level talks between the two countries are continuing over the fate of the Kaesong Industrial Park, a cluster of factories the South built in 2004 in North Korea to improve economic ties between the two countries. The two sides would meet again on July 2, Mr Han said. "This, in a sense, is good," he said. "North Korea has not closed the door completely to South Korea." cstanton@thenational.ae