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Why South Korea has agreed to six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program

Analysts in South Korea believe President Lee’s surprise call for six-party talks will bring the parties to the table since China and North Korea have both been calling in recent weeks for resumption of talks.

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South Korea and the US said previously they did not favor talks unless North Korea showed clear signs of living up to agreements reached in 2007 for giving up its nuclear weapons program. They became still more outspoken on the topic after the North showed off a new facility in November, capable of producing highly enriched uranium for warheads, at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon where the North has long had a five-megawatt reactor for fabricating nuclear devices with plutonium at their core.

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Analysts in Seoul believe Lee’s surprise call for six-party talks may help bring the parties to the table since China and North Korea have both been calling in recent weeks for resumption of talks. They doubt, however, renewed talks will bring about serious moves by North Korea to begin doing away with its nuclear program.

More talking “will not result in anything and will not be productive,” says Kim Tae-woo, senior fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. “Resumption of talks is not meaningful at all.” If South Korea does return to six-party talks, he notes, “we should withdraw preconditions,” notably the oft-stated demand that North Korea apologize for both the Yeonpyeong Island incident and for the sinking in March of the navy corvette the Cheonan, also in the Yellow Sea, with the loss of 46 sailors.

Possible reunification?

Kim Bum-soo, editor and publisher of a conservative magazine here, believes that Lee seems to have changed his view on North Korea.” The president, he says, is saying “it’s time to focus on reunification” even though “he’s quite aware North Korea has no intention to give up it nuclear program.”

While assenting to six-party talks, South Korea is also pressing the goal of renewed North-South dialogue, spurned by North Korea as North-South relations steadily deteriorated.

South Korea’s unification minister, Hyun In-taek, said the South would “press North Korea to move toward denuclearization and peace in lieu of nuclear arms” and give higher priority to the welfare of its citizens than to its policy of “songun,” military first.

Mr. Hyun suggested North Korea adopt “a Chinese-style model" featuring capitalist free enterprise within a communist political system.

In a formula of alternating dialogue and pressure, he promised to "aggressively try to bring about the irreversible denuclearization in North Korea” within the next 12 months” while protesting the North’s “harsh rhetoric” against the South.

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