BEIJING – North and South Korean delegations in Beijing for nuclear disarmament talks scheduled for later this week agreed at a meeting Sunday that solid progress needs to be made during the upcoming round of discussions.
The hour and 40 minute meeting was led by South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon (search) and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan (search), according to a spokesman for the South's delegation.
"They have agreed on the need to make substantial progress" said Bae Young-han, the director for press and public relations at the South Korean Foreign Ministry. He said the delegates discussed a variety of issues but would not give any details.
South Korea's (search) Yonhap news agency cited Song as saying the two sides "agreed to come up with a framework to realize denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." But the report did not elaborate on what this meant.
Song also said the two Koreas agreed to hold bilateral meetings throughout the talks, and to cooperate to bring results, according to the Yonhap report.
Earlier this month, Seoul offered a new incentive for the North to negotiate. The South offered to provide 2 million kilowatts of electricity by 2008 if the North agrees to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
The latest round of six-nation talks — among the Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia — were set to begin on Tuesday. North Korea (search) said earlier this month it would end its 13-month boycott of the talks after being reassured by a U.S. envoy that Washington recognized its sovereignty.
Three previous meetings hosted by Beijing have failed to resolve the nuclear standoff, sparked in 2002 after U.S. officials accused the reclusive Stalinist regime of running a secret uranium enrichment program.
Pyongyang has repeatedly said its nuclear weapons programs are a "self-defensive deterrent force" against what it calls hostile U.S. policies.
In February, the North publicly claimed it had nuclear weapons. While it hasn't performed any known nuclear tests that would confirm it can make a functioning warhead, experts believe Pyongyang has enough weapons-grade plutonium for about a half-dozen bombs.
North Korea says it will give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for diplomatic relations with the United States and a formal U.S. nonaggression commitment. It also wants to be removed from Washington's list of countries that sponsor terrorism and for economic sanctions against it to be dropped.
The United States has refused to offer concessions until North Korea is certified as free of nuclear weapons, but the North insists it get something first before abandoning its atomic program.
"If the U.S. drops its ambition for a 'regime change' and opts for peaceful coexistence with (North Korea), the talks can make successful progress and settle the issue of denuclearizing the peninsula," the North's Rodong Sinmun daily newspaper wrote in an editorial, according to the Korean Central News Agency.
The North also said it remains "unshakable" in its stand seeking a "peaceful negotiated settlement of the nuclear issue" and a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, according to the newspaper.
And on Friday, Pyongyang laid out its ultimate goal for the talks: a peace treaty with Washington on the divided Korean Peninsula that would formally end the war they fought a half-century ago. The Korean War ended in a cease-fire, leaving the two sides still technically at war with hundreds of thousands of troops facing off across the border.