INTERNATIONAL

North Korea to study Seoul's energy offer

P. S. Suryanarayana

SINGAPORE: South Korea has quoted North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il as saying he would "carefully study" Seoul's offer of massive energy assistance, if it were to give up its nuclear-weapons programme and begin dismantling the relevant facilities in a verifiable fashion.

Mr. Kim had so responded in a private conversation, when the South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young first made the offer during their talks in Pyongyang last month. North Korea has not indicated its official position to Seoul's announcement on Tuesday.

South Korea revealed its proposal in the context of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Seoul during her latest East Asia tour that concluded on Wednesday.

Seoul noted that Dr. Rice welcomed its offer to North Korea as a proposal that could be explored before and during the prospective multilateral talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programme. The parleys are likely to resume later this month.

Seoul intends to supply 2,000 MW electricity annually to North Korea. With Seoul indicating that transmission lines could be ready by 2008, experts said North Korea's grid too would need to modernise to receive supplies of this order.

While Seoul tends to portray the energy offer as one of the incentives that prompted Pyongyang to agree to return to the negotiating table, North Korea has cited the "clarifications" by the U.S. authorities that they would regard it as a sovereign state and also would "not invade" it.

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