North Korea needs to return to talks, South Korea says

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SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's president warned Saturday that his country will not let North Korea use its recent nuclear and missile tests to win concessions and that it needs to return to talks aimed at ending its nuclear program.

The communist nation has escalated tensions in the region in recent weeks after conducting its second nuclear test and launching a barrage of missiles. The North also appeared to be preparing to test a long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S.

"I would like to make it clear that there won't be any compromise" with North Korea when the country threatens the South's security, President Lee Myung-bak said in a speech marking Memorial Day at a national cemetery in Seoul.

Lee did not elaborate on what kind of compromises he was referring to. But some experts believe the North is using its nuclear and missile tests, and the trial of two American journalists, to strengthen its position for possible talks with the U.S. in order to win concessions or much-needed economic aid.

"North Korea should keep its promise to denuclearize the peninsula and come forward to inter-Korean dialogue," Lee added.

His warning came as seven key nations sent a draft U.N. resolution with proposed new sanctions against North Korea to their governments for review. Ambassadors were expected to discuss reactions from their governments next week.

Closed-door meetings have been held since May 26, a day after North Korea's underground atomic blast.

The U.S. will impose its own financial sanctions on the North apart from possible U.N. punishments, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday. The U.S. moves call for blacklisting foreign financial institutions that help the North launder money and conduct other dubious deals, it said.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg briefed Lee on the sanctions at a meeting Thursday, the paper said, citing an unidentified official at the presidential office. The U.S. Embassy in Seoul could not confirm the report.

Many analysts believe economic sanctions against the isolated North will not be effective unless China actively implements them. Pyongyang relies heavily on China for food and energy aid and imports. More than 70 percent of the North's total trade is with China.

A U.S. measure imposed in 2005 on Banco Delta Asia in the Chinese territory of Macau effectively led to the North being severed from the international financial system, as other institutions voluntarily severed their dealings with the bank and the North. Pyongyang stayed away from nuclear disarmament talks for more than a year in retaliation.

Complicating matters, two U.S. journalists were believed to be standing trial in North Korea, but Pyongyang has released no information since the scheduled start of the proceedings Thursday. They were arrested near the China-North Korean border three months ago and accused of "hostile acts" and illegally entering the country.

In Washington on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the North to release the women and allow them to return home.


Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang, William Foreman in Seoul, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Pamela Hess in Washington contributed to this report.


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