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South Korea: Nuclear North a 'grave threat'

U.S. diplomat James Kelly briefed South Korea's foreign minister about the Beijing talks with North Korea.
U.S. diplomat James Kelly briefed South Korea's foreign minister about the Beijing talks with North Korea.

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CNN's Jaime FlorCruz reports on the U.S.-North Korean talks in Beijing, China.
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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- A nuclear-armed North Korea would be a "grave threat" to peace in the Korean peninsula and East Asia region, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said Friday.

Yoon spoke to reporters after a debriefing from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly on talks with North Korea in Beijing, China, where the United States says Pyongyang privately admitted having a nuclear weapon.

The talks -- aimed at easing a tense standoff between Washington and Pyongyang -- ended Friday after a brief trilateral meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhao Xing and the North Korean and U.S. delegations.

During the talks, North Korean representative Li Gun pulled aside Kelly to tell him the country has at least one nuclear weapon, a Bush administration official said.

The official said that Gun asked, "Now what are you going to do about it?"

North Korea did not officially comment, although in the past the country has stated it has the right to possess nuclear weapons. The U.S. delegation also revealed little about the talks.

Kelly did not tell Yoon whether North Korea admitted to having a nuclear weapon, the South Korean diplomat said.

North Korea would consider dismantling its nuclear weapons program if the United States provides written assurance that it will not attack North Korea, Gun said, according to one source.

The United States dismissed any such overture, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday.

"We are not going to give a quid pro quo to get rid of a nuclear weapons program that never should have existed in the first place," Boucher said.

Aside from posing a threat to South Korea, a nuclear North Korea would violate treaties between the two countries that call for a nuclear-free peninsula, Yoon said. It also would violate treaties North Korea has with the international community, he said.

South Korea will continue its diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue peacefully, he said. The two Koreas meet Sunday for inter-Korean cabinet meetings. South Korea is expected to make the case that giving up nuclear ambitions is in North Korea's best interest.

Kelly will meet Saturday with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun's top foreign policy aides before heading to Japan to debrief officials.

South Korea's stock market tumbled Friday, apparently over concern about the nuclear threat.

Tensions have been high along the Korean peninsula after Washington last year accused Pyongyang of having nuclear weapons -- allegations that North Korea officially denies.

North Korea has kicked out inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and has reactivated at least some nuclear facilities.

Although the United States has been tightlipped about the Beijing talks, President Bush told NBC's Tom Brokaw that Pyongyang is "back to the old blackmail game."

Bush added the United States would continue to work with Japan, South Korea, China and other nations to show North Korea that "we're not going to be threatened."

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the United States won't be intimidated by "bellicose statements and threats."

China said the talks ended with handshakes and a commitment from all parties to arrange further talks.

"The crucial thing is to put the importance on the substance and not to get bogged down with form," said China's Li, "to pay close attention to words and statements of the other side but paying more attention to its action.

"The ultimate aim should serve the long-term interest of the peoples of the countries involved. The most urgent thing is to keep peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and realizing non-nuclearization of the peninsula and persist in resolving the issue through peaceful means."

The state department has not decided if it would hold more talks with North Korea, Boucher said. If it does, North Korea would have to dismantle any nuclear weapons and allow Japan and South Korea to participate in the summit, he said.

During the Beijing talks, a senior Bush administration official said the North Korean representative said it was up to the United States to determine whether there would be a "physical demonstration" of such a weapon.

The North Korean said his country would "prove" it has the weapon soon, implying that Pyongyang may test a nuclear bomb, though he did not explicitly threaten that, according to a source.

"This proves what the administration has been saying all along," one senior administration official said, "that North Korea has at least one nuclear bomb."

The Beijing meetings were the first between the United States and North Korea since October. At that time, Washington said North Korean officials admitted they were pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

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