Fri, Apr 20, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Korean aid talks delayed by procedural problem

AP , SEOUL

The formal opening of economic aid talks between North and South Korea was delayed yesterday because of a procedural problem, as the South planned to urge the North to carry out its nuclear disarmament obligations.

Seoul wanted to use the economic meetings -- aimed at discussing aid to the impoverished North -- to appeal to Pyongyang to implement its February pledge to start dismantling its atomic weapons programs, according to pool reports that cited an unidentified South Korean delegate.

The two sides were scheduled to hold their first negotiating session yesterday morning. But the meeting was being delayed after the North demanded it see a text of the South's keynote speech and the South rejected the demand, pool reports said.

Still, the two sides were to have lunch together, the reports said.

The meetings in Pyongyang, which began on Wednesday and will run through tomorrow, come after North Korea failed to meet a deadline last Saturday to shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor.

The North has said it is waiting for a separate financial dispute to be resolved around some US$25 million in funds frozen after Washington blacklisted a Macau bank for alleged complicity in North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting.

South Korea's deputy nuclear negotiator, Lim Sung-nam, planned to visit Beijing later yesterday to meet his newly appointed Chinese counterpart for talks expected to focus on the nuclear standoff, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said.

South Korea has said it would discuss the North's request for 400,000 tonnes of rice at this week's economic talks -- the 13th such session -- but it remained unclear whether Seoul would go ahead with shipping the food. The two countries were also expected to discuss test runs of trains across restored rail lines across the heavily armed border.

At an opening banquet on Wednesday evening, the North pressed the South to separate the two issues.

"We work in the strict principle of the separation of politics and economics," North Korean Senior Cabinet Councilor Kwon Ho-ung said, according to pool reports. "Let's implement already agreed-upon issues, overcome barriers bravely and advance grandly as united people."

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