North and South Korea failed yesterday to agree on multilateral talks to resolve a crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons drive but resolved to pursue "appropriate" dialogue to find a peaceful solution.
A joint statement released after the conclusion of the inter-Korean Cabinet-level talks pledged to end the deepening nuclear crisis "through an appropriate dialogue format" peacefully.
Since the talks opened here Thursday, the South has urged North Korea to agree on the talks in a multilateral format which should include both Koreas, the US, China and Japan to solve the nuclear impasse.
But North Korean negotiators insisted that only bilateral talks with the US should settle the nuclear crisis, Seoul officials said.
"The South and the North agreed to settle the nuclear issue peacefully through an appropriate dialogue format ... while expressing concerns about recent situations on the Korean peninsula," the joint statement said.
Neither side elaborated on the wording of the statement or specified whether it refers to multilateral or bilateral talks.
Shin Un-Sang, spokesman for the South's delegates to the talks, said Pyongyang made no solid pledge to participate in multilateral talks, but the Cabinet-level discussions had boosted chances for it to do so.
"Circumstances have been created for North Korea to enter the stage of settling the nuclear issue through dialogue or joining the multilateral talks in the future," Shin said.
The crisis erupted in October last year when the US accused North Korea of developing nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 nuclear pact freezing atomic facilities in return for economic aid and other benefits.
The US and North Korea held talks, also attended by China as a host, in Beijing in April to discuss the nuclear crisis but failed to agree on a follow-up meeting.
Despite tensions over the nuclear crisis, both Koreas agreed to push for the inter-Korean exchanges, the joint statement said.
Both sides agreed to arrange another round of family reunions around the Korean thanksgiving day on Sept. 11 to bring together relatives separated by the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, it said.
The two Koreas also agreed to hold fresh economic cooperation talks in Seoul from August 26 to 29 and the next round of Cabinet-level talks in Pyongyang from October 14 to 17. They decided to set up a new joint body to spur the inter-Korean social and cultural exchanges.
The latest Cabinet-level talks have been tougher than ever due to the differences over Seoul's strong demand that Pyongyang join the multilateral talks.
Both sides initially meant to wrap up formal discussions on Friday, but delayed the final session till early yesterday with working-level negotiators haggling over the wording of the joint statement.
The North's team returned home via China later yesterday.
The ministerial talks, a key dialogue channel between both Koreas since 2000, have recently been overshadowed by tensions with the jeopardized 1994 nuclear safeguard agreement.
The pact became almost defunct after North Korea expelled UN nuclear inspectors and began to revive its mothballed nuclear plants to protest a US halt to fuel oil supply for the energy-starved state.
The US has since campaigned to dismantle North Korea's nuclear programs in a verifiable and irreversible manner.
US intelligence reports say North Korea possesses one or two crude nuclear bombs and seeks more.
Seoul's intelligence chief said on Wednesday that the North had recently conducted some 70 high-explosive tests linked to nuclear weapons development and already reprocessing some of its 8,000 spent fuel rods that can yield weapons-grade plutonium.
Japan's Kyodo news agency reported yesterday that US intelligence has confirmed that North Korea has reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods.
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