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N. Korea Refuses to Return to Nuke Talks

South Korea failed to persuade the North to return to stalled international disarmament talks, but both sides agreed Monday to move ahead on an agreement for the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.

During the Cabinet-level meetings that began Friday in Pyongyang, Seoul had tried to coax the communist country back to the six-nation talks on its nuclear program.

Those talks produced an agreement in September where the North said it would give up its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.

In their two-way talks Monday, the Koreas agreed only to "continue to make efforts for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

The two Koreas also agreed to cooperate in taking practical steps to guarantee peace and ease tension on the peninsula, according to a joint statement issued at end of the four-day talks. No details were given.

Both sides made similar statements at their last round of inter-Korean talks in December. The forum is the highest-level regular dialogue between the North and South, who remain technically at war but have made strides toward reconciliation since their leaders' first and only summit, held in 2000.

On Monday, South Korea also agreed to provide the North with 200,000 tons of fertilizer and said it would review giving another 100,000 tons.

However, Seoul rejected the North's demand for 500,000 tons of rice aid.

South Korea periodically sends rice and fertilizer to the North, which has relied on foreign handouts to feed its 23 million people since the 1990s.

This year the South has already shipped 150,000 tons of fertilizer aid over the border. In 2005, it sent 350,000 tons of fertilizer and 500,000 tons of rice.

The six-nation nuclear talks — which include China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas — have been deadlocked since November over the North's refusal to attend, due to its anger over U.S. financial restrictions imposed over its alleged currency counterfeiting and other illicit financial activity.

On Monday, North Korea renewed demands that the U.S. lift the sanctions.

Washington says the sanctions are unrelated to the nuclear talks, and will stay in place.