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Diplomats pile pressure on N. Korea

Pyongyang urged to stand by nuke commitments

Bitter winter winds add to political chill at the DMZ dividing North and South Korea
Bitter winter winds add to political chill at the DMZ dividing North and South Korea

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South Korean officials are trying to resolve the dispute over North Korea's violation of its nuclear non-proliferation obligations. CNN's Rebecca MacKinnon reports (January 7)
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The International Atomic Energy Agency declines talks unless N. Korea freezes its weapons program. CNN's Andrea Koppel reports
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VIENNA, Austria -- Diplomatic efforts are intensifying to bring an end to the North Korean nuclear crisis with key international players holding high-level meetings Monday to ratchet up pressure on Pyongyang.

In Vienna the governing board of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, have gathered for an emergency meeting to discuss the North's plans to restart its nuclear program.

IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei said in a statement before the board met: "North Korea has shown complete defiance towards its obligations under the safeguards agreements."

He added the move "sets a dangerous precedent in the international community."

A draft resolution is before the board listing steps North Korea can take to come back into compliance with nuclear weapons agreements.

The IAEA is expected to give Pyongyang one final warning, condemning its actions and urging it to stand by its international commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. (Full story)

However, U.S. officials have told CNN the IAEA will stop short of asking the U.N. Security Council to take action against the Pyongyang regime.

Meanwhile South Korea is upping its efforts toward finding a peaceful resolution to the nuclear dispute sending its top security official to Washington for strategic meetings.

Yim Sung-joon, the national adviser to President Kim Dae-jung, joins another South Korean delegation already in Washington for two days of talks with the United States and Japan scheduled to begin Monday.

That meeting is part of regular efforts to coordinate strategy between the three allies, although the nuclear issue has given added impetus to the talks.

'Common denominator'

Before leaving Seoul for Washington Monday Yim said he would be focusing on trying to find what he called "a common denominator" with U.S. officials on a way to end the crisis peacefully.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is also vowing to push diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, saying negotiations are the only way to resolve the current standoff.

In his much-anticipated first speech of the new year Monday, Koizumi also promised to pursue establishing formal diplomatic relations with Pyongyang.

He added that he plans to discuss the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he visits Moscow next week.

The diplomatic manoeuvring however had little impact on the icy relations across the so-called demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides North and South Korea -- one of the last Cold War style frontiers in the world.

On Monday the U.N. Command that oversees the DMZ accused the North of refusing to acknowledge the 50-year-old armistice agreement that established the border region between the two Koreas.

Machine guns

The U.N cited an incident last month in which North Korean troops took machine guns into the DMZ in violation of the agreement, which prohibits such weapons in the zone.

The troops were accompanying construction workers building the new transportation corridor between the two Koreas.

The DMZ is one of the world's last Cold War-style frontiers
The DMZ is one of the world's last Cold War-style frontiers

At a regular meeting in the DMZ on December 30, officers from the U.N. Command confronted officers from the North Korean People's Army (KPA) about the incident.

"When presented with photographic proof of North Korea's repeated armistice violations," the U.N. Command said, "the KPA attempted to simply dismiss the issue as a matter outside the purview of the armistice."

North Korea maintains that the armistice does not apply to the transportation corridor, which, when complete, will establish road and rail links through the DMZ.

"This raises serious security concerns in the transportation corridor," said UNC Cmdr. Gen. Leon LaPorte. The violations, he said, set a dangerous precedent, and could lead to the breakdown of the protections of the DMZ.

"It could undermine the armistice's most significant visible mechanism for maintaining a separation of opposing forces -- the DMZ," he said.

"If this situation continues, I believe the Korean peoples' security could be diminished by North Korea's continued refusal to discuss their most recent armistice violations with the [U.N. Command]," LaPorte said.

The DMZ was established in 1953 when an armistice was signed to end the fighting in the Korean War. Each side pulled back 2,000 meters from the last line of military contact, creating the zone.

The armistice laid out specifics about the number of troops and kinds of weapons that could be in the DMZ.

'Plan to attack'

Pyongyang meanwhile has added further to the war of words with the United States, saying Washington's planned deployment of a missile shield was evidence of a plan to attack the secretive communist state.

In a report Monday North Korea's state-run news agency KCNA placed the blame for the tensions between the two countries squarely on the Bush administration.

"The Bush bellicose forces are starting the deployment of the MD [missile defense] to take military sanctions and strike against the DPRK [North Korea] under the pretext of its alleged 'progress made in acquiring nuclear capability' and 'missile threat,'" KCNA said.

"This goes to clearly prove that the U.S. intends to launch military intervention against the DPRK on the plea of 'nuclear and missile threat' in a bid to settle the bilateral issue not by peaceful means but force."

Pyongyang acknowledged in October last year that it had an active nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement, and it has hinted it might withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The United States has demanded that North Korea end its nuclear weapons program and says it will not negotiate under what it calls blackmail conditions.

-- CNN Correspondent Rebecca Mackinnon contributed to this report.

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