SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Wednesday it has no plans to make nuclear weapons and repeated its position that the nuclear crisis can be resolved through dialogue with the United States, South Korean officials said following a Cabinet-level meeting with their northern counterparts.
"We made it clear that inter-Korean relations could be hurt unless the nuclear issue is not resolved promptly," South Korean delegate Rhee Bong-jo said after hour-long talks with North Korean officials. "North Korea stressed that it has no intention of making nuclear weapons."
The talks, along with three other sets of inter-Korean meetings this week, continue contacts started by a North-South summit in June 2000. They are the highest-level regular contacts between the two countries.
South Korea's chief delegate, Jeong Se-hyun, demanded in a speech that the North freeze its nuclear facilities and reverse its decision to quit the global nuclear nonproliferation treaty, Rhee told reporters.
The chief North Korean negotiator, Kim Ryong Song, said Pyongyang has no intention of making nuclear weapons and that the dispute can be resolved through dialogue, he said.
In a 10-page statement, Kim Ryong Song accused the United States of planning a "pre-emptive nuclear attack" on the North and urged South Korea to join the North in blocking what it called a U.S. plan to "subjugate the whole Korean nation."
Rhee said South Korea will continue to raise the issue during the remainder of the talks, which continue through Friday.
There were no more formal meetings scheduled for Wednesday, though informal contacts were expected. The North Koreans were to visit an amusement park in southern Seoul later in the day.
The North Koreans arrived in Seoul on Tuesday for the first Cabinet-level talks since October, hinting that they wanted to focus on inter-Korean reconciliation projects rather than the nuclear issue. "Let's ... concentrate on resolving internal issues," said Kim, the North Korean negotiator.
On Wednesday, Kim called for better cooperation with South Korea to prevent "self-destruction" of the Korean peninsula. It's North Korea's long-standing strategy to drive a wedge between South Korea and its key ally, the United States.
"The North and South should cooperate to avoid the threat of war at a time of acute confrontation surrounding the Korean peninsula, and to protect peace and stability of our nation," he said.
In separate negotiations, South and North Korean Red Cross officials agreed Wednesday to hold more temporary reunions for families separated since the peninsula was divided in 1945.
Some had feared the nuclear crisis would delay progress on the inter-Korean family reunions project. But the two sides agreed that the next round will be held Feb. 20-25.
The contacts come amid a flurry of international diplomatic activities to resolve the North's nuclear dispute peacefully. Pyongyang's longtime allies -- Russia and China -- as well as other countries support a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Pyongyang insists the dispute is purely with Washington and does not involve other nations.
U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton, in Seoul for a three-day visit, met Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong and other top South Korean national security officials on Wednesday.
Upon arrival at Incheon International Airport, Bolton said Tuesday the United States wants to bring the North's nuclear issue before the U.N. Security Council.
He did not specify what Washington would like the Security Council to do. U.S. officials earlier considered economic penalties against North Korea, but have dropped that option for now, at least publicly.
Tensions escalated in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted having a secret nuclear program in violation of a 1994 agreement. The United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the North and Pyongyang responded by expelling U.N. inspectors and preparing to reactivate facilities from an older nuclear program.
On Wednesday, Japan's Yomiuri newspaper said the Japanese government was drawing up plans to evacuate its citizens from Seoul within 70 hours in case of a North Korean attack. The Japanese foreign ministry refused to comment on the report.