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Koreas Agree to Advance Nuke Issue, Bilateral Ties
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The 18th inter-Korean ministerial talks concluded on Monday in Pyongyang with a joint statement pledging to seek a peaceful solution to the nuclear standoff and to further strengthen bilateral cooperation on a range of issues.

In the joint statement containing eight agreements, the North Koreaand South Korea agreed to take substantial measures to push for "the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and to ensure that the nuclear issue can be resolved peacefully" by fulfilling a September accord made at the end of the fourth round of the six-party talks last year, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The two Koreas also agreed to guarantee peace and ease tension on the peninsula by taking effective measures and to recognize and respect each other's ideology and systems.

Economic cooperation would be strengthened between the two neighbors to improve national economic development, the statement said.

In the September accord, the North Korea was committed to abandoning "all nuclear weapons" and "existing nuclear programs" and returning to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency at an early date.

In return, the other five parties -- China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States -- stated their willingness to provide energy assistance to North Korea.

In the four-day ministerial talks, South Korea had hoped to persuade North Korea to cooperate on the issue of South Korean nationals allegedly abducted or taken prisoner by Pyongyang, the KCNA reported.

Both sides had agreed to cooperate with each other in their efforts to substantially settle the issue of the persons whose whereabouts had remained unknown since the Korean War and in the subsequent period, the report said.

The ministerial meeting -- this year's first -- was originally planned for March 28 to 31, but North Korea decided to postpone it due to a joint military exercise between the US and South Korea.

Kwon Ho-ung, the chief councilor of the Cabinet of North Korea, and South Korea's unification minister Lee Jong-seok headed their respective delegations.

The next round of inter-Korean ministerial talks is scheduled to be held at Pusan in South Korea from July 11 to 14, according to the joint statement.

(Xinhua News Agency April 25, 2006)

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