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Seoul insists on N. Korea apology before dialogue

North Korea will have a hard time making progress in its peace talks with the rival South and other regional powers unless it first apologizes for the two deadly attacks it conducted against Seoul last year, officials here said Monday.

The comments by senior officials here come as the Seoul government is yielding to international pressure by agreeing to hold nuclear talks with Pyongyang.

International efforts to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization have been stalled as tensions between the two divided Koreas spiked following last March’s torpedoing of a South Korean warship and the November bombarding of a border island.

While hoping to reopen dialogue with Seoul as well as five partners in the denuclearization talks, Pyongyang continues to deny involvement in the attacks that killed 50 South Koreans.

China’s top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei proposed after a meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing that the two Koreas’ nuclear envoys meet to pave the way for resumption of the six-nation talks which have been stalled since late 2008.

South Korea agreed to hold such a meeting, changing from its previous stance not to do the North any favors until it apologizes properly.

South Korea wants to see the North “take a responsible attitude” toward its attacks as well as denuclearization,” spokesperson of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles affairs with Pyongyang, said.

“We need to see action, not words. And inter-Korean dialogue must come before any kind of international negotiations,” spokesman Chun Hae-sung told a daily press briefing Monday, declining to elaborate further on the government’s plans.

Another senior official in Seoul said “nuclear envoys of the two sides could meet” without North Korea’s apology, “but no more negotiations can come” without it.

“The six-party talks and the inter-Korean dialogue may have different agendas, but the two issues cannot be separated,” the official said on the condition of anonymity. “An apology is essential in whatever form and extent.”

Members of the six-nation denuclearization talks ― involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia ― have been positively reviewing the method under which inter-Korean nuclear talks are followed by bilateral talks between Washington, Pyongyang and ultimately the resumption of the six-party talks.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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