SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's president on Thursday urged North Korea to take part in talks amid fears it may pull out of a Cabinet-level meeting next week aimed at reducing tensions.
South Korean officials have said they hope to use the talks, scheduled for next Monday to Thursday, to try to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions in return for aid and better ties with the outside world.
North Korea called off two lower-level meetings with South Korea last week. Seoul fears it may also cancel the Cabinet-level talks, Unification Ministry spokesman Kim Jung-ro said.
"Mutual efforts are important. North Korea must sincerely talk with South Korea with an open attitude," President Roh Moo-hyun was quoted as saying by his chief spokeswoman.
The president's comments came shortly after diplomats in New York said the U.N. Security Council would meet next Wednesday to discuss the crisis over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program. China expressed hope that the talks will lead to a political solution.
For weeks, China had said it didn't want the Security Council involved and had refused to attend meetings of the four other veto-wielding council members -- the United States, Britain, France and Russia -- to discuss a statement pushed by Washington that would condemn North Korea for pulling out of an international nuclear arms control treaty.
China's change in attitude has raised hopes of some council diplomats that it may propose a diplomatic solution for the dispute.
But a senior South Korean Foreign Ministry official in Seoul downplayed expectations of a breakthrough.
"The members are just meeting to exchange their thoughts on how to go about resolving this issue," said Chun Young-woo, the ministry's director of disarmament and nuclear energy.
If a solution is not found, the council could eventually discuss imposing sanctions against North Korea. The North has warned it would regard such a move as a declaration of war.
North Korea's state Central Television Broadcast on Wednesday condemned South Korea's decision to send about 700 non-combat troops to help the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
"The dispatch is a criminal act that further imperils the situation on the Korean Peninsula," said the broadcast, monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
The nuclear standoff flared in October when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a secret nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement. As punishment, Washington and its allies suspended oil shipments promised under that agreement.
North Korea retaliated by expelling U.N. monitors, taking steps to reactivate frozen nuclear facilities and announcing its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.