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SKorean leader urges strong army, citing threat

South Korea Koreas Nuclear

SKorean leader urges strong army, citing threat

SEOUL, South Korea – President Lee Myung-bak said Thursday that South Korea should strengthen its armed forces to cope with a continuing nuclear threat from North Korea despite recent conciliatory gestures.

After raising tensions with nuclear and missile tests earlier this year, North Korea released several American and South Korean detainees, announced it would resume joint projects with Seoul and offered direct talks with the U.S.

Seoul and Washington are studying the offers but have shown no signs of easing pressure on North Korea to disarm through U.N. sanctions imposed after its May nuclear test.

Lee warned that North Korea’s nuclear program continues to threaten stability on the Korean peninsula, and South Korea must not “let its guard down at any time.”

“It’s true that we need a dialogue with North Korea,” Lee said in a televised speech marking Armed Forces Day. But he added, “South-North Korean dialogue and peace will be advanced when we have a strong military with a firm readiness.”

On Wednesday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said the country would make decisions on nuclear disarmament “in relation to U.S. policy” toward it.

In response, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that North Korea will continue to face isolation and “significant” sanctions if it is unwilling to give up its nuclear program.

Also Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg told reporters in Seoul that Washington is open to dialogue with North Korea if it helps get international nuclear disarmament talks started again, and urged the North to take advantage of the chance.

“There’s a tremendous opportunity now for them to take a constructive measure,” he said.

North Korea has been insisting on one-on-one talks with the U.S. since quitting broader six-nation talks on its nuclear program in April. Washington, which had demanded that the North first return to the six-party talks, is now considering direct talks to push disarmament discussions forward.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is to travel to North Korea next week, raising hopes that he could help produce a breakthrough in the nuclear row. China, North Korea’s biggest source of economic aid and diplomatic support, could be key in pushing for the resumption of the six-nation talks.

Wen also is to meet Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in three-way talks Oct. 10 in Beijing that are expected to focus on North Korea’s nuclear program and regional cooperation. Lee and Hatoyama will hold bilateral talks a day earlier in Seoul, Lee’s office announced Thursday.

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North Korea ‘in final uranium phase’

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North Korea ‘in final uranium phase’

“Uranium enrichment tests have been successfully carried out and that process is in the concluding stage,” state media were quoted as saying.

If confirmed, the move would be in defiance of international pressure for the North to abandon its nuclear work.

The UN passed tougher sanctions after a nuclear test by Pyongyang in May.

Both that test and an earlier nuclear test by North Korea in 2006 were understood to have been plutonium-based warheads.

Defiance

The North’s KCNA news agency reported that North Korea’s delegation at the United Nations had written to the Security Council, saying Pyongyang was now ready “for both sanctions and dialogue”.

“Reprocessing of spent fuel rods is at its final phase and extracted plutonium is being weaponised,” the AFP news agency reported the delegation as saying.

“If some permanent members of the UN Security Council wish to put sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue,” the delegation said.

South Korea’s defence minister had warned in June that the North was going ahead with plans to enrich uranium, a step towards making nuclear weapons.

Observers say the US has long suspected the existence of a secret uranium enrichment programme in the North, though experts say it remains little-developed.

In the past few months, North Korea has fired a long-range rocket over Japanese territory and conducted an underground, plutonium-based nuclear test.

Renewed tensions

But more recently, the secretive communist nation has made more conciliatory gestures on the world stage.

Two US reporters and a South Korean worker were released from detention and Pyongyang said it was interested in resuming cross-border tourismand industrial projects with the South.

Less than two weeks ago, the first meeting between officials from the North and South for nearly two years took place unexpectedly in the southern capital, Seoul.

However, the latest communique indicated that the North was unhappy that the UN allowed South Korea to launch a satellite last month, after having condemned its own rocket launch in April, Reuters reported.

Correspondents said Pyongyang’s latest remarks appeared to seek once again to ratchet up tensions on the Korean peninsula


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Ban Ki-Moon – U.N.’s Ban says willing to visit North Korea

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Ban Ki-Moon – U.N.’s Ban says willing to visit North Korea

Ban Ki-Moon, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Wednesday he is willing to visit North Korea to defuse tensions over the communist country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

“Whatever I can do as the secretary-general I am willing to do, including my own visit to Pyongyang at this time,” Ban told a news conference.

“I need to find out when would be an appropriate timing for me to visit. I am not able to give you any answer at this time,” said Ban, who was South Korea’s foreign minister before becoming U.N. chief in 2007.

In the last two months North Korea has conducted its second nuclear test, test-fired seven ballistic missiles and boycotted six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic, political and diplomatic benefits.

Those talks include the two Koreas, China, Russia, the United States and Japan. Ban said he was “deeply concerned” by recent developments on the Korean Peninsula and that while he still supported the six-party talks, “if necessary there should be some other forms of dialogue.”

The U.N. chief welcomed what he said was North Korea’s willingness to engage in direct dialogue with the United States. “That I would like to support and welcome,” he said.

Since Ban moved to the United Nations, there has been speculation he might visit North Korea, but the North has not said publicly it would welcome him.

The U.N. Security Council angered North Korea by imposing sanctions this year on 13 entities and individuals involved in nuclear and missile work in the reclusive state.

Ban backed the council’s action, saying it had “sent a very strong and clear message to Pyongyang that the international community will not accept nuclear weapons in the DPRK (North Korea).”

He also said he had made two previously undisclosed appeals to North Korea to release two U.S. journalists it has held since March.

Laura Ling and Euna Lee of the U.S. media group Current TV were arrested near the China-North Korea border, convicted of “great crimes” and sentenced to 12 years hard labor.

“On two occasions I have conveyed my strong wish and appeal even to the DPRK authorities that they should look at this issue and release them, even on humanitarian grounds,” Ban said, declining to elaborate.


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