SKorea says NKorea unwilling to give up nukes

SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea's president said North Korea is making conciliatory gestures because it feels the pain of U.N. sanctions, while the top U.S. diplomat said Washington is considering the North's long-held desire for direct talks.

South Korea's conservative President Lee Myung-bak, in a joint interview with his country's Yonhap news agency and Japan's Kyodo news agency, said the North is showing no sign of giving up nuclear weapons but that the U.N. sanctions against it are pushing it to be more conciliatory.

He also accused the North of trying to win economic aid while holding on to atomic weapons, underlining deep skepticism about a neighbor that is abruptly taking a softer line following nuclear and missile tests just a few months ago.

Lee's remarks came as the United States indicates it is preparing to accept North Korea's offer to hold direct talks, which would be the countries' first nuclear talks since President Barack Obama took office.

North Korea has long sought direct talks with Washington in hopes of raising its international profile, but U.S. officials have made clear that any such talks would be within the context of efforts to resume six-nation disarmament negotiations involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that no final decision has been made but that the Obama administration believes such bilateral talks would be worthwhile.

"One of the ways we perhaps can get North Korea to engage is by explaining directly and clearly what the purpose is and what the possible consequences and incentives are," she said

South Korea has said it does not oppose the direct talks.

The South Korean president said U.N. sanctions are having an effect on the North.

"It appears to be true that North Korea is fairly embarrassed because of greater than expected real effects" of U.N. sanctions, Lee said, according to a published Yonhap transcript. Lee's office confirmed its contents.

"North Korea is using some conciliatory strategy toward the United States, South Korea and Japan in order to get out of this crisis, but for now, North Korea is not showing any sincerity or sign that it will give up nuclear weapons," he said.

The North's goal with the conciliatory gestures appears to be to "receive economic cooperation while trying to buy time to make it a fait accompli" for it to possess nuclear weapons, Lee said.

North Korea pulled out of talks with the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia and Japan in April, protesting international criticism of its launch of a rocket that other nations suspected was a test of long-range missile technology.

In May, it conducted a nuclear test that drew tough new U.N. sanctions on the North's weapons exports and financial dealings. The sanctions also allow inspections of suspect North Korean cargo in ports and on the high seas.

Amid the sanctions, the North has been taking conciliatory gestures, freeing detained American and South Korean citizens and pledging to resume suspended joint projects and family reunions with South Korea.


Associated Press Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

sculpture in central London. REUTERS/Toby Melville