Koreas Agree to Resolve Nuke Standoff

The two Koreas agreed Thursday to seek a peaceful resolution to the international standoff over the North's nuclear program, but the rivals failed to set a date for resuming stalled disarmament talks.

The North has stayed away from arms talks for a year, citing "hostile" U.S. policies. Last week, North Korea leader Kim Jong Il (search) said the communist state could return to the talks if it received appropriate respect from Washington.

"The South and the North have agreed to take real measures for peaceful resolution of the nuclear issue through dialogue as the atmosphere is created with the ultimate goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, Seoul's head delegate, said while reading a joint statement.

Though the Seoul delegation urged the North to return to the talks in July, it "hadn't heard a definite answer" from the North Koreans, said Kim Chun-shick, a spokesman for the South Korean delegation.

The top delegates from North and South appeared side-by-side at a news conference after their negotiations, a departure from previous high-level talks that normally ended with the issuing of a written statement.

Earlier Thursday, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (search) urged a peaceful, quick resolution of the nuclear issue during a meeting with North Korean chief Cabinet counselor Kwon Ho Ung, the head of Pyongyang's delegation, said Roh's spokesman, Kim Man-soo.

The statement on the nuclear issue after the Thursday talks did not go beyond previous pledges made by both sides. Washington has dismissed Kim's recent statements, saying Pyongyang needs to set a firm date to return to the arms negotiations and talk substantively about giving up its nuclear program.

Those negotiations involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

The North declared in February that it had nuclear weapons and insisted that the nuclear standoff only can be discussed with the United States. The North's claim has not been verified independently.

The North launched another tirade at the United States earlier Thursday, lashing out at President Bush for meeting a prominent defector who suffered a decade of abuses in a prison camp.

Bush met last week at the White House with Kang Chol Hwan (search), a defector now working as a journalist in South Korea and author of "The Aquariums of Pyongyang," which details his life in a North Korean prison, where he was incarcerated as a child with his family.

Referring to Kang as "human trash," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said, "The human rights piffle again let loose by the U.S. high echelon suggests that Washington is not firm in its stand to recognize (North Korea) as its dialogue partner and respect it.

"This, therefore, cannot be construed otherwise than an act of throwing a wet blanket on the efforts to resume" the nuclear talks, KCNA wrote in a commentary.

In other agreements Thursday between the Koreas, the South decided to give food aid to the North "on the basis of brotherly love and humanitarian" needs, according to a final statement. Details were to be discussed later.

Reunions between families divided by the Korean border will resume in August, after being put on hold last year.

Military talks also will resume at an unspecified date between the two nations, which technically remain at war since a 1953 cease-fire ended the Korean War.

The Cabinet-level talks in Seoul are the highest regular contact between the North and South, and this week's session was the 15th since a landmark 2000 summit between their leaders. Contacts resumed last month after the North severed them for 10 months in anger over mass defections of its citizens to the South.

The next round of Cabinet-level talks was set for Sept. 13-16 at the North's Mount Paektu, and another session was planned for December in South Korea.