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S. Korea Offers Energy to North

Times Staff Writers

South Korea announced Tuesday an offer to break the yearlong stalemate in negotiations with North Korea by sending 2 million kilowatts of electricity across the demilitarized zone if the North agrees to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hailed the proposal today as a creative way to solve North Korea’s energy problems without the risk of nuclear proliferation.

The electricity would replace power that was to be supplied by two light-water nuclear reactors that a U.S.-led consortium had been building in the North. Construction was suspended in 2003 after North Korea was caught cheating on an earlier denuclearization pact.

Rice has said that the U.S. agreed to address North Korea’s energy needs in the last proposal it put on the negotiating table in June 2004, but ruled out civilian nuclear power plants because of the proliferation risk.

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“That is what is so very useful about the South Korean proposal and I think a considerable improvement on where we have ever been,” Rice said in a joint appearance with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon.

Earlier today she met with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to discuss North Korea, military bases and President Bush’s visit as part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November.

South Korea announced its proposal just before Rice arrived on the last leg of a six-day visit to Asia, during which she and allies have prepared a coordinated position to present to North Korea at the fourth round of six-nation talks, to be held in Beijing the week of July 25.

“We’ve agreed that the agreement of the North Koreans to come back to the talks is a very good step, but only a first step, and we look forward to a strategic decision of the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear weapons,” Rice said today.

News of the $5-billion proposal for the energy-starved North came on the heels of Seoul’s announcement that it was giving Pyongyang half a million tons of rice and other aid in exchange for the North’s returning to the six-party talks.

The energy offer would essentially double the electricity available in North Korea, but it would also increase its dependence on its neighbor because South Korea would control the switches.

“This is a proposal that could solve the North Korean nuclear problem at the earliest possible date. And it would be an epoch-making development in inter-Korean economic relations,” South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong Young said.

Chung presented the offer to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il last month in Pyongyang and later briefed Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney in Washington.

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The Bush administration has argued that North Korea must not be rewarded for cheating on its treaty obligations, withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and announcing that it has nuclear weapons.

But Rice said the energy proposal, which she said could easily be incorporated into a joint offer by the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, did not represent a reward for bad behavior. She said it was an extension of the June 2004 offer to give the North energy aid only after it agreed to disarm.

One sign of disarray among the allies emerged this week when Japan announced that the politically charged issue of the North Korean abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s must be on the agenda at the six-party talks.

China and South Korea oppose including the matter, fearing that stalemate in the bitter dispute could become an obstacle to achieving a nuclear disarmament deal. On Tuesday, Rice sided with Japan.

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Jinna Park of The Times’ Seoul Bureau contributed to this report.


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