09/16/2004, 00.00
NORTH KOREA - SOUTH KOREA
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Upcoming six-nation talks in jeopardy

Beijing (AsiaNews/AFP) – The next round in the six-nation talks over North Korea's nuclear programme scheduled for late September could be put in jeopardy by the massive explosion that occurred last September 9 in North Korea and revelations that South Korea enriched certain amounts of uranium and conducted certain plutonium experiments.

Pyongyang maintains that Thursday explosion was not a nuclear test but rather part of a plan to construct a hydro-electric plant. US authorities are convinced that the detonation was not a nuclear experiment. Until concrete evidence is produced China –the main go-between in the six-nation talks– has declined making any comment about the blast.

In an attempt to keep the talks alive an old member of the Chinese Communist Party, Li Changchun, personally handed a letter signed by China's President Hu Jintao to the North Koreans in Pyongyang. In it China's president invites the two countries to cooperate.

For many observers recent events in the peninsula, including the growing refugee problem, have changed the premise for the talks.

On the one hand, the muted US and Japanese response to revelations by South Korean authorities about their own nuclear material production has undermined North Korean confidence in the process. According to the Pyongyang regime southern nuclear steps convinced it to continue its own nuclear experiments. On the other hand, North Korea's threats could lead to nuclear escalation involving South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

China is increasingly concerned by the danger posed by deteriorating relations among its neighbours. For this reasons a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry urged all six parties to show "flexibility and resolve" so that the talks can take place "before the end of September". The talks are designed to find ways to dismantle North Korea's nuclear installations. The US is firm on this demand.

In addition to the two Koreas and the US, the talks involve Russia, Japan and China, the latter acting as the talks' main sponsor and go-between.

The last round of talks took place from August 23 to 26 in Beijing and ended with all parties agreeing to "solve the crisis as soon as possible", scheduling the next round for late September.

North Korea has agreed to freeze its nuclear programme but only in exchange for US economic aid. The US has said that any economic aid is conditional on North Korea agreeing to dismantle its nuclear weapons in ways that are "complete, verifiable and irreversible". (MA)

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