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South Korea's key role

Sohn Jie-ae
CNN Correspondent

North Korea accuses the U.S. of having a hostile attitude towards its regime
North Korea accuses the U.S. of having a hostile attitude towards its regime

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CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon reports on the latest diplomatic strategies to counter a possible nuclear threat from North Korea. (January 4)
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- When delegates from South Korea, the United States and Japan meet to discuss and coordinate their policies on North Korea's recent nuclear developments, they are likely to agree on several points.

A South Korean high-level official has told CNN that Seoul's number one goal as it heads to Washington is to stop North Korea from reactivating nuclear facilities that can reprocess spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium.

International Atomic Energy Agency officials say if the fuel rods are reprocessed, the North could have enough plutonium to make three to six weapons, and they would only need a month or two.

And the North is already hinting it is getting ready to pull out of the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

But while the allies may agree on what the problem and the goal are, they differ on just how to get there.

While calling for a peaceful and diplomatic resolution, Washington says it is not ready to sit down and talk with the North, which is calling for a non-aggression pact.

In a national security council meeting held over the weekend, Seoul officials reportedly discussed playing a mediating role, that is, getting North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions, in return for something from Washington.

"The Bush administration could consider the Albright/Cho Myong-Rok communique which was issued in October 2000, which has shown American intent of non-aggression on North Korea," Moon Chong-In of Yonsei University told CNN.

"Such kind of joint communiqué could be a workable replacement to the non-agression treaty," he said.

Seoul officials point out that such a framework was established during the Clinton administration, when then Secretary of State visited North Korea and met with its leader Kim Jong-Il.

In 1994, South Korea had a minimal role to play in averting the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Eight years later, with inter-Korean relations better than they have ever been before, as well as a president-elect who wants to play a more independent and equal role with Washington, many believe history will not repeat itself.

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