Officials from North, South Korea hold preparatory meeting

AP , SEOUL

Tue, Oct 23, 2007 - Page 5

North and South Korean officials met yesterday to help prepare for upcoming multilateral talks on energy aid to the communist North under a February deal calling for the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions, an official said.

The meeting, which runs through today at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, is aimed at facilitating six-nation talks with the US, China, Russia and Japan on how to provide aid to the North in return for its pledge to abandon its nuclear weapons program, said a spokesman at the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

A South Korean delegation arrived at the scenic mountain on Sunday and was to stay there until today when the talks conclude, said the spokesman, who refused to let his name be used.

The focus of this week's talks was to consult on energy-related facilities, specific items of equipment and methods of supply, the ministry said in a press release last week.

South Korea hosted the first round of working-level talks among the six parties in August on energy aid to the North. According to South Korean media reports, Seoul was to host the second working-level session this month, but the Foreign Ministry has not released official confirmation.

A US team of nuclear experts wrapped up a weeklong trip to North Korea last week on disabling the North's sole functioning nuclear reactor, which the regime had already shut down under the initial phase of the six-nation deal in return for Seoul's shipment of 50,000 tonnes of oil aid.

The Yongbyon nuclear complex is believed to have produced enough plutonium for perhaps more than a dozen bombs -- including the device North Korea detonated a year ago to prove its long-suspected nuclear capability.

Under a Feb. 13 deal agreed to by the six parties, North Korea vowed to abandon its nuclear ambitions in return for 1 million tonnes of oil aid and political concessions

In the latest round of the six-party talks that ended early this month, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear facilities and declare all of its programs by the end of this year.

Also yesterday, the Unification Ministry said in a press release that the two Koreas agreed to hold separate working-level talks this week to prepare for a meeting of their prime ministers scheduled for next month.

The North sent a message consenting to a proposal by the South to hold the preparatory talks in the North Korean border city of Kaesong on Friday, the release said.

In the second-ever inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang earlier this month, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il agreed on a wide-range of accords aimed at easing tension and boosting cross-border economic exchange programs.

The agreements include separate meetings between their prime ministers and defense ministers next month.