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(2nd LD) Nuclear talks not possible if Pyongyang linked to sinking of S. Korean ship

All Headlines 16:35 April 20, 2010

(ATTN: UPDATES with additional remarks from Foreign Minister Yu, more details, background)
By Byun Duk-kun

SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) -- The resumption of multilateral denuclearization talks on North Korea will face a setback if the communist nation is found to have been involved in the recent sinking of a South Korean warship, South Korea's Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Tuesday.

"I believe the resumption of the six-party talks will not be possible for some time if we find evidence that clearly shows North Korea's involvement," the minister told a press briefing.

The 1,200-ton warship Cheonan sank near the tense border with North Korea in the Yellow Sea on the night of March 26. Suspicions of Pyongyang's involvement grew after investigators said upon examining a part of the broken vessel that an external blast likely caused the sinking.

The disaster, said to be one of the worst in South Korea's naval history, occurred as members of the six-party talks were trying to reopen negotiations on denuclearizing the North.

"It is hard to say how exactly the two will be linked, but I believe it will be difficult to resume the six-party talks, at least until the Cheonan incident is resolved to a certain extent," the minister said.

"If North Korea is found to have been involved, it will naturally be difficult to hold the six-party talks," he added.

Thirty-eight sailors were confirmed dead from the sunken warship, with eight still missing. North Korea's military on Saturday denied involvement in the incident, accusing Seoul of laying false blame to evade its own responsibility.

U.S. officials, including Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, have noted an inevitable suspension of efforts to resume the nuclear talks until the countries find out exactly what or who caused the sinking of the Cheonan.

Minister Yu said the resumption of the nuclear negotiations, last held in December 2008, will likely be further delayed until the North pays its due penalties should it be found guilty.

"If North Korea is clearly found to have been involved, I think it will not be easy to hold the six-party talks for some time because we must make North Korea pay a price for its actions," he told the briefing.

Yu said his ministry was reviewing diplomatic measures the country could take if the communist nation is found to be responsible for the Cheonan's sinking, and that other ministries were also reviewing their own measures.

"I believe there is a need for us to consider our move with all options on the table. The foreign ministry is reviewing diplomatic measures, and I believe (the government) will decide on steady but stern measures from those reviewed by all related ministries," he said when asked if the government was also considering military measures.

The minister, however, said a temporary suspension of the nuclear negotiations, should there be one, will not do any permanent damage to the process that began in early 2003 after Pyongyang quit the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

"The six-party talks have been going on for the past six or seven years, and we believe there will not be any serious problem even if their resumption is delayed by a month or two and that we must first focus our attention on investigating the Cheonan incident," he said.

The nuclear negotiations involve both South and North Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.


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