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Seoul Eyes Prospects for New Multinational Talks with North Korea

Recent improvements in inter-Korean ties have led to optimism in Seoul about prospects for resuming long-paralyzed regional negotiations over North Korean denuclearization, the Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday, citing an anonymous government official.

The two Koreas last week finally struck a deal on resuming joint economic activities at the Kaesong business complex, which had been shuttered since the spring.

"Recent progress in inter-Korean relations could have a positive impact on the environment for resuming the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs," said the official, who closely follows the issue. 

The six-nation negotiations include China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States. The talks focus on rewarding North Korea's gradual abandonment of its nuclear-weapons programs with phased concessions on foreign-economic assistance and international-security pledges. The last round of talks took place in late 2008.

International isolation and heightened sanctions imposed as punishment for the North's ballistic-missile launches and atomic tests may be taking a toll on Pyongyang, according to the official.

Meanwhile, Chinese and South Korean academics and onetime government officials on Tuesday took part in a conference that focused on improving bilateral collaboration around efforts to persuade the North to cease its nuclear weapons development and return to negotiations, Yonhap separately reported.

China is North Korea's principal economic benefactor and thus is viewed as having the most sway over Pyongyang. In the past, Beijing has been seen as overly cautious in exercising its influence. However, North Korea's recent nuclear and missile trials are understood to have prodded China into taking a sterner position with its longtime ally.

Separately, South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Monday told a meeting of her National Security Council that it was crucial that the South maintain military readiness to respond to North Korea, the Korea Herald reported.

"It is utterly important to maintain a firm security posture in all circumstances," she said. "As the saying goes, even if the whole country appears to be calm, if one forgets war, crisis is bound to visit."

Park directed that a government assessment be carried out to ensure that South Korean cities remain prepared to respond to a potential chemical or biological attack.

South Korea and the United States are holding another in a series of routine joint armed-forces maneuvers. Though North Korea has typically condemned such exercises and threatened strong retaliation, this time Pyongyang has not reacted in such a bombastic way, according to the Herald.

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