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U.S. official says world leaders will press North Korea to give up uranium enrichment

Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg meets with South Korea's foreign minister and will visit China.

January 26, 2011|By Jung-yoon Choi | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
  • U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg talks with South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg talks with South Korea's… (EPA / Yonhap News Agency )

Reporting from Seoul — Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg arrived here Wednesday with a warning that world leaders would take steps to press their objections to North Korea's uranium enrichment program.

Steinberg said last week's Washington summit between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a "clear message" that Kim Jong Il's nuclear ambitions violated international agreements.

"It's very important that the international community send a strong message that the uranium enrichment program, indeed any uranium enrichment program by North Korea, would be inconsistent with its international obligations, with Security Council resolutions and with its own commitments," he said.

On Wednesday, Steinberg met with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and other high officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He is also scheduled to visit China.

In November, Pyongyang acknowledged that it was developing a facility to enrich uranium that many believe will be used to make nuclear weapons.

In 2009, North Korea abandoned six-party nuclear talks -- including the U.S., China, South Korea, Russia and Japan -- aimed at convincing the regime to drop its nuclear ambitions. The next year brought the sinking of a southern warship in March that killed 46 crewmen, and an artillery attack that killed four people on a front-line southern island. But in recent weeks, Pyongyang has reached out to Seoul for renewed talks.

South Korea recently agreed to a meeting, proposing that talks take place Feb. 11 near the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas.

In a statement released Wednesday, Pyongyang also called for direct talks with Washington to ensure that there will be no further unprovoked attacks on South Korea.

"We are willing to make joint efforts to realize" that goal, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Analysts say that talks between North and South should include a range of issues from recent hostilities to avoiding nuclear war.

"I agree that it's important to send strong messages to North Korea" on its uranium enrichment, said Jeong Chan-soo, executive director of Min Political Consulting. "But Koreans are more concerned with getting an apology for" the deaths of South Koreans.

Steinberg said the Obama administration would press the U.N. Security Council for a condemnation of North Korea's enrichment program: "I think the strong position that we've all taken and I think the clear message coming out of the summit between President Obama and President Hu should help drive that message home."

Choi works in the Times' Seoul Bureau.

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