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South Korea's efforts to lure North Korea back to international talks on its nuclear weapons program appeared to make little headway as officials from the two countries began their second full day of high-level discussions Thursday.
South Korea continued to urge an early resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, but "the North holds a position that the lack of progress is due to the US hostile policy" toward it, South Korean spokesman Kim Chun-sig said.
Prospects for a resolution of the nuclear dispute have dimmed since the latest row between the North and Washington over US financial sanctions against the communist nation for alleged illicit activities, including money laundering and counterfeiting.
North Korea threatened last week to boycott the disarmament talks - involving the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas - until Washington lifts the sanctions, which the North claims are based on "sheer lies."
The conflict has stalled implementation of a breakthrough Sept. 19 agreement in which the North agreed to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
"It looks like the North thinks the US is the cause of the latest stumbling block to the six-party talks," Kim told reporters Thursday. "The North's position is that the nuclear issue should be resolved with the United States."
Kim said South Korea will continue its efforts to persuade the North at their meeting on the southern resort island of Jeju, the 17th such Cabinet-level negotiations between the Koreas.
Unification Minister Chung Dong-young, who heads the South Korean delegation at the inter-Korean talks, is to travel on Sunday to Washington where he is expected to relay the North's position and try to bring both sides back to the negotiating table.
Also Thursday, the North repeated calls for the United States to lift financial sanctions, denying allegations of counterfeiting.
"No matter how often American political imbeciles may orchestrate farces of every form at their back parlor, it will only reveal the moral vulgarity of the Bush group and further deteriorate the standoff over the nuclear issue," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.
"The only way for the Bush group to get rid of its present deplorable position is to lift its financial sanctions against (North Korea) and sincerely work to find a solution to the problem at the six-party talks," KCNA said.
Officials from the two Koreas were expected to issue a joint statement Thursday evening on key inter-Korean issues, including South Korean abductees and prisoners of war still believed to be held in the North.
South Korea estimates 538 soldiers from the war were alive in the North as of December 2004. It also says the North is holding 486 South Korean civilians, mostly fishermen whose boats were seized since the war's end. The North denies holding any war prisoners, saying the civilians defected voluntarily.
The two Koreas remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, although exchanges between them have increased since a summit of their leaders in 2000.
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