SEOUL, South Korea – The United States urged North Korea (search) on Tuesday to abandon its atomic weapons program as South Korea revealed it had offered the impoverished North massive energy aid to lure it back to nuclear disarmament talks after more than a year of deadlock.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who arrived Tuesday in Seoul for talks on the North Korea nuclear issue, said the United States wants to make the disarmament talks set to resume later this month a success.
"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 in Japan before she arrived in Seoul. "Without that, these talks cannot be successful."
Also Tuesday, a Chinese special envoy visited North Korea to urge it to work toward a deal in the new round of disarmament talks.
After a meeting with the top U.S. nuclear envoy in Beijing, North Korea said Saturday it would return to the nuclear talks during the week of July 25. The six-party negotiations — which include China, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and the United States — last convened in June 2004.
In Seoul, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said South Korea would provide electricity to the North if it agrees to give up nuclear weapons at the revived arms talks.
South Korean officials had previously refused to give details of the aid proposal which Chung made directly to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (search) at a meeting last month. The offer apparently convinced the North to end its boycott of the nuclear negotiations.
Chung said the South would provide electricity 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.
"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.
That project has stalled and other energy aid also has 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. Enriched uranium can be used for nuclear energy but also for nuclear weapons.
The new 2 million kilowatts of electricity could be delivered by 2008 after infrastructure is built, Chung said. The earlier $4.6 billion reactor project would be scrapped, he said.
Chung said the North has not directly responded to the plan, which has also been presented to U.S. officials.
"We are going to keep on consulting with the North sincerely about the practicality and usefulness" of this proposal, he said.
Chung also echoed Rice's calls for the arms talks to lead to a resolution of the nuclear crisis.
South Korea also pledged Tuesday to give 500,000 tons of rice to North Korea in aid separate from the nuclear issue. That agreement — reached after all-night bilateral economic talks — would be Seoul's largest food shipment in five years to the North.
Meanwhile, senior North Korean officials told a visiting columnist from The New York Times that one of two nuclear reactors the North resumed building 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 North Korean Gen. Li Chan Bok as saying.
If the United States mounts a military strike to destroy the reactors, Li said it would be "all-out war" and did not rule out the use of nuclear weapons, Kristof reported.
At the close Tuesday of inter-Korean economic talks at which the rice aid 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 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.