Thu, Jul 17, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Roh convenes security meeting

AFP , SEOUL

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun convened a security meeting of Cabinet ministers and top advisers yesterday to discuss the deepening crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons drive, his office said.

The meeting came a day after Washington expressed "serious concern" over Pyongyang's claim to have reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods to make atomic weapons and a former top US official warned that the US and North Korea could go to war before the end of the year.

No further details emerged, but the statement said Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan and Defense Minister Cho Yung-kil were among officials attending the meet along with Roh's top advisers and National Intelligence Service chief Ko Young-koo.

"These discussions were secret. Nothing is being disclosed," said a senior official with the president's office.

Seoul has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons ambitions but the latest disclosure from Washington suggests that appeals have so far fallen on deaf ears.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirmed Tuesday that North Korea had informed the US that it had completed reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons.

"It's not something, at this time, that we can confirm the accuracy of, but we are evaluating it," McClellan said.

If true, "reprocessing in itself would be a clear indication that North Korea was bent on enlarging its nuclear arsenal," said US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Efforts to resolve the standoff through diplomacy have so far yielded little.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) recently sent Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo (戴秉國) to Pyongyang bearing a personal letter for North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Earlier yesterday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) exchanged views on the nuclear stalemate by telephone, the official Xinhua news agency said.

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