The two Koreas were close to agreeing on cooperating for a peaceful resolution of the North's nuclear standoff as high-level negotiations stretched into Friday, a source close to the inter-Korean talks said. Still, it wasn't clear if Seoul would secure a firm commitment from the North Koreans to return to international arms talks, which Pyongyang has said it would boycott until Washington lifts financial sanctions.
In a joint statement to be adopted at the conclusion of the Cabinet-level talks, the two Koreas are expected to "reaffirm their commitment to implementing the Sept. 19 joint statement and actively cooperate for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue," the source said, briefing journalists on condition of anonymity.
The North agreed in September to abandon up its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees. But implementation of that agreement has dimmed since the latest row between the North and Washington over U.S. financial sanctions against the communist nation for alleged illicit activities, including money laundering and counterfeiting.
North Korea threatened last week to stay away from the multinational talks on its nuclear weapons program until Washington lifts the sanctions, which the North claims are based on "sheer lies." South Korea, Japan, China and Russia are also involved in the arms talks.
South Korea had hoped to use their highest-level dialogue channel, the 17th such meeting, with the North to convince the communist nation back to the nuclear negotiations. "It looks like the North thinks the U.S. is the cause of the latest stumbling block to the six-party talks," South Korean spokesman Kim Chun-sig said Thursday. "The North's position is that the nuclear issue should be resolved with the United States."
During dinner Thursday, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, who heads the South Korean delegation, stressed cooperation between the two Koreas. "We can overcome any obstacle if the South and the North understand each other and cooperate," Chung said, according to pool reports. "Let's work together."
The North repeated its calls Thursday for the United States to lift financial sanctions. "The only way for the Bush group to get rid of its present deplorable position is to lift its financial sanctions against (North Korea) and sincerely work to find a solution to the problem at the six-party talks," the country's official Korean Central News Agency said, reports the AP. N.U.
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