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South Korea calls on North to honour nuclear deal

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea called on North Korea on Wednesday to honour its part of a 2005 nuclear disarmament deal for which it had received energy aid and said it was up to Pyongyang to show it was serious about the troubled process.

A North Korean soldier (R) looks at South Korean soldiers standing guard upon Asia-Pacific military leaders' visit to the south side of truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, north of Seoul, October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

North Korea has expressed renewed willingness to rejoin the six-party nuclear talks after a two-year boycott, which analysts said was an indication it was hurting badly under harsh U.N. sanctions imposed last year in response to its nuclear test.

South Korea and the United States have rejected the idea of resuming the negotiations for now, saying the North must first admit responsibility for sinking a South Korean navy ship in March that killed 46 sailors.

The North denies it was involved in the incident and has threatened to attack the South if it is punished for it.

“North Korea must show sincerity that it would implement nuclear disarmament steps equivalent to the 750,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil it received from the international community and ... allow the return of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors or declare a moratorium on its nuclear facilities,” a senior South Korean foreign ministry official said.

The ministry denied a Yonhap news agency report that said those were the preconditions for the South’s return to the stalled six-way nuclear negotiations, saying the North must still accept responsibility for the sinking of the navy ship Cheonan.

North Korea had been given the fuel oil as initial compensation for steps it had taken through 2008 to freeze its nuclear activities, which it has since called irrelevant.

Under a landmark 2005 deal with the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, the North agreed to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programmes and return to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

In a subsequent accord on implementing that deal, the North agreed to shut down and seal its nuclear facilities and invite international inspectors to oversee disarmament steps.

The North was offered economic aid in return for those steps, including an initial shipment of 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil. The shipment stopped at 750,000 tonnes when Pyongyang refused to agree to intrusive inspections.

The North then walked away from the six-way process which had begun in 2003, saying it would not deal with the United States because Washington was intent on undermining its leadership.

But in an about-turn, the North said in July that it was willing to return to dialogue, and China, which hosted the forum, has been working behind the scenes for a resumption.

Analysts said the North was squeezed hard under sanctions imposed after its defiant nuclear and missile tests last year that deepened its economic woes, and may be trying to return to talks to secure more aid.

Editing by Robert Birsel