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S. Korea, U.S. seek to renew nuke accord in 'creative' way: official

All Headlines 13:24 October 29, 2014

SEOUL, Oct. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is seeking to revise its nuclear cooperation accord with the U.S. in a "creative" manner that could guarantee Seoul's autonomy in its civilian use of nuclear energy to some extent, a ranking official said Wednesday.

South Korea and the U.S. are in the final stage in revising the accord over Seoul's civilian nuke energy use, also known as the "123 agreement. The two sides hailed the "significant progress" in negotiations for the renewal of the pact, according to a statement unveiled following the recent meeting of the foreign and defense ministers.

The pact signed in 1974 bans Seoul from enriching uranium and reprocessing spent nuclear fuel due to proliferation concerns.

South Korea has been seeking to renew the accord in a bid to meet growing energy demand at home and help its exports of nuclear power plants. But the U.S. has been reluctant to do so, apparently due to a possible negative impact on its global nonproliferation campaign amid concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

The official at Seoul's foreign ministry said that the negotiations have entered the final stretch, saying that it is seeking to revise the nuke deal in a "creative" manner that can guarantee Seoul's autonomy in its civil nuclear use to some extent.

"We are adjusting the wording of the envisioned pact in a 'creative' manner so that the deal is not about imposing prohibition or unilateral controls when it comes to enrichment clauses," he said.

He said that the accord would be renewed in a way that is different from Washington's nuclear deals with other countries.

"The two sides are seeking to revise the deal in a mutually beneficial way. So the issue of enrichment and reprocessing would not be dealt with as a matter of yes or no."

The main sticking point of the accord negotiations is whether Seoul can be allowed to use pyroprocessing technology, a reprocessing technology considered to pose fewer proliferation risks as it leaves separated plutonium mixed with other elements.

South Korea has wanted to use the technology as it can help ease the headache of the disposal of nuclear waste in a country with a small territory. But Washington has been reluctant to allow South Korea to do so due to proliferation concerns.

Under the current nuke deal, South Korea must win permission from the U.S. case by case whenever it tries to tinker with nuclear materials and technology.

Since the 1980s, Seoul has been allowed to seek overall approval from Washington every five years, but there are still lots of inconveniences and limitations for South Korea to deal with nuclear fuel under the current nuclear pact.

In 2008, the U.S. clinched a nuclear pact with the United Arab Emirates that includes explicit prohibition of uranium enrichment and reprocessing in the pact's clauses called the "Gold Standard."

Washington's recent nuke pact with Vietnam contains the Southeast Asian country's political commitment not to pursue the enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuels.

A draft of a new nuclear pact between Seoul and Washington would contain the wording of promoting "strategic cooperation" in the nuclear energy issues among the two sides, according to officials.

South Korea has been seeking to upgrade its strategic cooperation with the U.S. by taking into account its enhanced status in the nuclear power industry.

The nuke accord was supposed to expire in March, but the two countries agreed to extend it by two years to March 2016 in order to buy time for further negotiations.


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