Monday, February 14, 2011

China does not back efforts by Washington and Seoul to punish North Korea at the United Nations for its uranium enrichment programme and w

SEOUL (Reuters) - China does not back efforts by Washington and Seoul to punish North Korea at the United Nations for its uranium enrichment programme and wants six-party talks to deal with the issue, a top South Korean envoy said on Saturday.

International disagreement over how to deal with the North's growing nuclear capability comes just days after inter-Korean talks collapsed, as diplomatic efforts to defuse simmering tensions on the divided peninsula faltered.

The six-party talks, which offer Pyongyang aid and diplomatic recognition in return for disabling its nuclear weapons programme, were last held two years ago. They collapsed when the North quit in protest against U.N. sanctions for its nuclear and missile tests.

The six-way talks started in 2003 and are chaired by China, and also involve the United States, Japan and Russia.

"Both sides were concerned about it (the North's uranium enrichment programme) and will work closely," the South's nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac told Reuters after a two-day visit to Beijing to discuss the issue with his Chinese counterpart.

But Wi said China disagreed that the United Nations should be involved, and said the six-sided forum should deal with it.

The North and its main ally and benefactor China have called for the six-party talks to be restarted, but Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have questioned the North's sincerity about denuclearizing, pointing to its uranium enrichment as proof.

Tensions spiked on the peninsula last year after the sinking of South Korean warship and the North's shelling of a remote South Korean island. The North denies it was responsible for sinking the ship and says it was provoked into shelling the island.

In November, the North raised international security concerns when it revealed big advances in its uranium enrichment programme, giving it a second route to make an atomic bomb along with its plutonium progamme.

The North says the uranium programme is for peaceful energy means, but Washington and Seoul says it contravenes a 2005 agreement and Security Council resolutions, and that Pyongyang should be reprimanded by the United Nations.

Both Beijing and Washington have said that before the six-party nuclear talks can reconvene, the two Koreas, still technically at war after signing only a truce to end the 1950-53 Korean War, must iron out their differences at bilateral talks.

This week, military officers from the two Koreas met for the first time since last November's attack on Yeonpyeong island, but discussions collapsed when they failed to agree on an agenda and rank of participants for a higher-level meeting.

Analysts say the two Koreas will likely return to the negotiating table again, under pressure from Beijing and Washington. However, they say six-party talks are a long way off as both the South and the United States doubt the North's sincerity.

(Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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