SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea agreed Wednesday to resolve international concerns over its nuclear weapons program through dialogue, but stopped short of meeting a U.S. demand to immediately abandon its nuclear weapons program.
"In order to guarantee peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, the South and North will actively cooperate in resolving all the issues, including the nuclear issue, through dialogue," according to a joint statement following four days of talks.
The five-member southern delegation, led by Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun, arrived back in Seoul by chartered plane and briefed President Kim Dae-jung on the talks.
The South Korean presidential Blue House welcomed the agreement.
"It's meaningful that the agreement was reached," presidential spokeswoman Park Sun-sook said. "We expect that the agreement will provide a positive momentum in trying to resolve the North's nuclear issue."
The two sides also agreed to start work in December to build an industrial park in Kaesung, just north of their border. South Korea hopes to relocate thousands of labor-intensive factories there, possibly through a cross-border road and railway under construction.
But the eight-point agreement did not contain a clear North Korean promise to give up its nuclear weapons program and honor its agreements with the United States, South Korea and the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, which require it not to develop or possess nuclear arms.
Washington has demanded that North Korea immediately abandon its nuclear program to win American trust for talks.
Delegates of the two Koreas held a series of meetings through midnight Tuesday in Pyongyang, the North's capital, seeking a last-minute deal.
Pyongyang had promised not to develop nuclear weapons under a 1994 agreement with Washington — and broke it.
The United States, encouraged by recent moves toward change, including economic reforms, in North Korea, wants to resolve the issue peacefully but "will judge North Korea by what it does, rather than by what it says," U.S. Ambassador to Seoul Thomas Hubbard said.
"For the United States this new North Korean nuclear weapons program is an overriding concern that must be resolved swiftly and visibly," Hubbard said in a speech to South Korean economists.
Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's primary state-run newspaper, said Tuesday that the United States should "opt for reconciliation and peace, not strong-arm policy," which could prompt the North to take an unspecified "tougher counteraction."
In Seoul, President Kim Dae-jung again urged North Korea to scrap its nuclear weapons program, saying that it can never be "pardonable."
The three-day, Cabinet-level talks in Pyongyang, which opened Sunday, were meant to discuss inter-Korean reconciliation but the North's nuclear issue took priority. No foreign journalists were allowed to cover the talks.
North Korea signed a deal with the United States in 1994 pledging to freeze and eventually dismantle its suspected plutonium-based nuclear weapons program in return for construction of two modern, light-water reactors and 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year until the reactors were completed.
However, the North admitted to visiting Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly early this month that it has been secretly pushing a program to make nuclear weapons with enriched uranium.
North Korean officials told Kelly that they consider the 1994 agreement invalid because the reactors were several years behind schedule and were not expected to be completed by 2003 as promised.