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S. Korea, U.S. in home stretch of talks on civilian nuclear cooperation

All Headlines 06:54 June 20, 2014

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, June 19 (Yonhap) -- A senior South Korean official strongly indicated Thursday that Seoul and Washington have made progress in drawn-out talks on their civilian nuclear partnership.

"Currently, the two sides are in the stage of fine-tuning wording in a new agreement," the official told reporters.

South Korea is seeking to upgrade its "strategic cooperation" with the U.S. in consideration of its enhanced status in the nuclear power industry, he added.

Under the current agreement, signed in 1974, South Korea's non-military nuclear program has been unilaterally dependent on the U.S., he pointed out.

South Korea is prohibited from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel even for peaceful purposes.

South Korean officials say that their country, an emerging exporter of nuclear power plants, needs to expand its atomic energy program for the stable supply of nuclear fuel and the effective handling of spent fuel.

"This time, we are working on a quite fresh agreement," the official said, briefing media on the results of the 10th round of high-level negotiations on the issue.

He said both South Korea and the U.S. agree on the need to wrap up the talks by the end of this year.

The current version of the so-called 123 agreement was slated to expire in March this year. After failing to reach a new deal, the two sides instead agreed to extend it by two years to March 2016.

Many expect that it would take several months to finish domestic procedures, including parliamentary action.

The official said, however, the two sides will have to talk more about some remaining thorny issues, apparently referring to Seoul's push for advanced consent for uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel.

"It is difficult to reveal specific contents of the ongoing negotiations," the official said. "South Korea and the U.S. have much in common in the development of nuclear energy. There is plenty of room for the two sides to deal with the matter in a cooperative way."

South Korea's top negotiator, Amb. Park Ro-byug, and his U.S. counterpart, Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, had the 10th round of talks on Tuesday and Wednesday.



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