South Korean and U.S. envoys last week met for a third set of talks on Seoul's effort to increase the range of atomic activities it is permitted to conduct through a new bilateral nuclear cooperation deal, the Yonhap News Agency reported (see GSN, July 11).
The two days of negotiations that began on Thursday in Washington were aimed at refining language in an initial agreement the two sides developed during prior talks in March, officials said.
The current pact is due to lapse in 2014, four decades after it was signed. The agreement bars South Korea from reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, a process that can be used to produce fissile material.
Seoul wants the replacement treaty to permit pyroprocessing -- a next-generation reprocessing technique said to pose fewer proliferation risks.
Following the March negotiations, the South and the United States formed a task force to assess the technical aspects of pyroprocessing.
"There is no political or diplomatic problem," a South Korean official said. "It is purely a technical issue."
Further talks are anticipated before a final document is ready for signing, the official said. Seoul would like to see the negotiations concluded no later than 2012 to allow time for South Korean lawmakers to approve the new pact.
Some observers have been skeptical of the nonproliferation benefits of pyroprocessing. Washington is concerned that allowing South Korea to conduct pyroprocessing could undermine efforts to press North Korea toward denuclearization.
"The United States will find it difficult to consent to any kind of reprocessing on the Korean Peninsula, particularly if Washington perceives that such a decision would jeopardize the satisfactory resolution of the nuclear issue in North Korea," ex-State Department official Fred McGoldrick stated in a report (Yonhap News Agency I/Korea Herald, July 15).
Last week's session "centered on making all aspects of the nuclear accord more modern and advanced, and on revising the accord in an equal and mutually beneficial way," a South Korean official told Yonhap.
"We will continue to have working-level discussions on the contents and expressions of many issues to be included in the accord and to try to narrow our differences," the source added (Yonhap News Agency II, July 18).