July 12, 2006

S.Korea presses North, US stands by UN draft

By Jack Kim

PUSAN, South Korea (Reuters) - South and North Korea held
formal ministerial talks on Wednesday for the first time since
Pyongyang sparked a crisis with missile tests as a rift among
regional powers widened despite U.S. calls for unity.

Seoul said it wanted the cabinet-level talks in South Korea
to focus on the North's missile and nuclear programs, but
Pyongyang largely sidestepped the issue.

"The missile issue and (the North's) return to six-party
talks took up most of our remarks," senior Unification Ministry
official, Lee Kwan-se, told reporters in the South Korean port
city of Pusan.

He said that when the North Korean delegation was asked
about the missile launches, it referred to a statement last
week by its Foreign Ministry which insisted the country had a
right to develop and test missiles.

Washington, meanwhile, was due to press its case for
sanctions against the North over last week's missile tests at
talks with Chinese officials in Beijing.

Before heading to a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister
Li Zhaoxing, U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill stood by a U.N.
draft resolution proposed by Japan to slap sanctions on North
Korea, calling it a "very good resolution."

"We continue to be guided by the need to make a strong
united statement to the North Koreans," Hill told reporters.

Hill said the resolution had been co-sponsored by many
countries. The United States sent its top envoy on North Korea
to Asia to press for a single international response to
Pyongyang's test-launch of seven missiles.


China, South Korea and Japan are looking increasingly
divided over how to react.

All agree that North Korea should return to multinational
talks to persuade it to drop its nuclear weapons program, but
disagree on what action to take against Pyongyang over the
missile tests.

Discussions between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia
and the United States on the North's nuclear program came to a
halt last November, with the North fuming at a U.S. crackdown
on what it considers Pyongyang's illicit finances.

Beijing on Wednesday urged Washington to resolve the
dispute with the North over financial sanctions.

"It's affecting the progress of the six-party talks and we
hope that it will be clarified and resolved as quickly as
possible," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told

"Specifically how to resolve it is something you will have
to ask the American side."

The United States says the amount of North Korean assets
frozen at a Macau bank, at around $20 million, is paltry
compared to substantial aid the North could receive if it
scrapped its nuclear program.

China has hinted it will veto Japan's proposed U.N.
sanctions against North Korea and also, with South Korea, has
accused Tokyo of overreacting and adding to tensions.

Backers of the draft on Tuesday put off the vote for
another day while Chinese officials visit Pyongyang. Chinese
Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei and Vice Premier Hui Liangyu are
in North Korea.

Eight of the Security Council's 15 members sponsor the text
and were due to meet on Wednesday to reassess the situation.

South Korea wants the international community to send a
stern message to North Korea over its missile launch but is not
certain if sanctions proposed by Japan are the best way to get
that done, Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said at a press
briefing on Wednesday.

"South Korea cannot help but be cautious over the
invocation of the U.N. Chapter Seven measures due to the
consideration that they could have a negative impact on the
situation on the Korean peninsula and in Northeast Asia," Ban

China's foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, told
reporters on Tuesday: "The Chinese side thinks the concerned
draft resolution is an over-reaction. If approved, it will
aggravate contradictions and increase tension."

(With additional reporting by Jack Kim in Pusan, Chris
Buckley Ian Ransom and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing and Evelyn
Leopold at the United Nations)