SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea (search) revealed Tuesday that it offered energy aid to impoverished North Korea (search) as an incentive to encourage it to return to nuclear disarmament talks set to reconvene this month after more than a year of deadlock.
Unification Minister Chung Dong-young (search) said South Korea would provide electricity to the North if it agrees to give up nuclear weapons at the revived six-nation arms talks. South Korean officials had previously refused to give details of the aid proposal, which apparently pushed the North to agree over the weekend to end its boycott of the nuclear negotiations.
Chung said the South would provide the same amount of electricity that the North had been set to receive from proliferation-proof nuclear reactors that were to be built under a 1994 deal between Washington and North Korea. That project has stalled and other energy aid also been halted to the North since the latest nuclear crisis broke out in late 2002, after U.S. officials accused the North of running a secret uranium enrichment program.
"Our proposal to directly supply energy is to provide the power to replace the North's nuclear energy, which is a key component of the nuclear issue," Chung told a news conference.
South Korea pledged earlier Tuesday to give 500,000 tons of rice to North Korea in aid separate from the nuclear issue. The aid agreement — reached after all-night bilateral economic talks — would be Seoul's largest food shipment in five years to the North.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) arrived Tuesday in Seoul for talks on the North Korea nuclear issue. She was to meet President Roh Moo-hyun on Wednesday.
On a stop Tuesday in Japan, Rice said the United States wants to make the talks a success, but cautioned the North needs to renounce its atomic weapons.
"What we really need is a strategic decision on the part of the North that they are indeed ready to give up their nuclear weapons program," Rice told reporters after a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura in Tokyo. "Without that, these talks cannot be successful."
North Korea said Saturday it would return to the nuclear talks during the week of July 25, after a meeting with the top U.S. nuclear envoy in Beijing. The weapons negotiations — which include China, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and the United States — last convened in June 2004.
Senior North Korean officials told a visiting columnist from The New York Times that one of two nuclear reactors the North resumed constructing this year — which could potentially generate more weapons-grade plutonium — could be completed this year or next.
"To defend our sovereignty and our system ... we cannot but increase our number of nuclear weapons as a deterrent force," Nicholas D. Kristof quoted Li Chan Bok, a North Korean army general, as saying in a column Tuesday.
If the United States carries out a military strike to destroy the reactors, Li said the result would be "all-out war" and didn't rule out the use of nuclear weapons, Kristof wrote in a column Tuesday.
The chief nuclear negotiators from Japan, South Korea and the United States will meet Thursday in Seoul to coordinate strategy for the next round of arms talks, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.
At the close early Tuesday of inter-Korean economic talks at which the aid shipment was negotiated, the two sides agreed the South would give the North raw materials to help it produce clothes, shoes and soap for use by its impoverished population. In return, the South will be given investment rights in North Korean mining operations, the two sides said in a joint statement.
The North and South also agreed to conduct a pilot run in October of reconnected railroad links across their heavily armed border and hold an opening ceremony for restored roads. The two Koreas also will open an economic cooperation office at a joint industrial zone just north of their border.