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2 Koreas Narrow Differences but Nuclear Issue Is Unsettled

From Reuters

North and South Korea narrowed their differences Thursday, but a final agreement on clearing the divided peninsula of nuclear weapons remained elusive, government officials said.

The moves came a day after it was announced that Kim Jong Il, son of North Korean President Kim Il Sung, had been put in command of the military in the north.

The north offered a number of major concessions at talks at the truce village of Panmunjom but fell short of fully accepting unconditional international inspection of its nuclear facilities, South Korean government spokesman Lee Tong Bok told reporters.

“The north came up with its own revision, which was very close if not identical to ours,” Lee said.

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The draft put forward by North Korean negotiators contained a key clause stating that it has no nuclear fuel-reprocessing facilities and pledging that it will not acquire them.

“We regard it as highly important that the north came up with a joint declaration and that it won’t own facilities for nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment,” Lee said.

The north has denied that it is developing nuclear weapons. But Washington, Seoul and Tokyo fear that an increasingly isolated Pyongyang is little more than a year or two away from making a nuclear bomb.

Inspections are the single most important issue dividing the two Koreas, which have been partitioned since 1945, and preventing further normalization.

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The prime ministers of the two Koreas, still technically at war from the 1950-53 conflict, signed a historic reconciliation pact this month but sidestepped the nuclear issue, which threatens to block further progress.

North Korea told the south it has begun the process of signing and ratifying a nuclear safeguards accord with the International Atomic Energy Agency, paving the way for inspections. But it refused to name a date.

The south proposed that the north sign the safeguards agreement by Jan. 15, but the north rejected this. It said the signing is strictly a matter between Pyongyang and the atomic energy agency and no other nation could set a deadline.

“The north asked us to leave it to them and asked us not to interfere,” Lee said.

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South Korea and the United States insist that Pyongyang permit inspections as it is obliged to do as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

North Korea announced Wednesday that command of the armed forces has been turned over to Kim Jong Il, son and designated heir to President Kim.

Kim Jong Il, 49, was elected supreme commander of the North Korean People’s Army at a plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Korean Workers’ (Communist) Party on Tuesday, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

The 79-year-old President Kim had held the post of supreme commander since the 1950-53 Korean War.

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Kim Jong Il is believed to exercise day-to-day control over government, economic and military affairs.


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