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Japan, S Korea assess possible N Korea atomic test

Written by: Staff

SEOUL, Aug 24: The chances of North Korea's return to talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme are dim and Seoul and Tokyo are now assessing whether Pyongyang might even conduct a nuclear test, South Korea's nuclear envoy said today.

North Korea test-fired seven missiles in July, raising tensions and drawing UN Security Council sanctions. South Korea's foreign minister said yesterday a nuclear test would have far more devastating consequences than the missile launches.

Japan's top nuclear negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, met his South Korean counterpart, Chun Yung-woo, in Seoul following news reports last week saying the North may be preparing its first nuclear test.

''The prospects for the resumption of the six-party talks are very dark,'' Chun told reporters after the meeting. ''We have no disagreement when it comes to seeing no signs that the North was coming back to the table.'' Chun said he and Sasae talked about a possible North Korean nuclear test, but declined to give further details.

North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons, but has yet to prove that with a known test. Experts say it has enough nuclear material to build a half-dozen or more atomic bombs.

The six party talks, aimed at inducing North Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes in exchange for aid and security guarantees, have been stalled since November.

Pyongyang refuses to attend the talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States until Washington ends a crackdown on firms it suspects of aiding the North in illicit activities, such as counterfeiting.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may visit his key ally China next week to discuss the North's possible nuclear test with Chinese President Hu Jintao, the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo reported a diplomatic source in Seoul as saying.

But experts on the North were sceptical, saying Beijing was hardly in a welcoming mood because of what it sees as unnecessarily provocative moves by the North with its weapons programmes.

China voted for the UN security council resolution which condemned the missile tests and urged member states to cease dealings with the North that could aid its weapons programmes.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was planning to visit China in October to discuss bringing the North back to the table, the South's foreign minister said today.

Roh's top security adviser was scheduled to visit China today for discussions on the North.

Roh will also travel to Washington in September to discuss North Korea's nuclear ambitions as well as the South Korean-US military alliance with President George W Bush.


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