U.S., S. Korea Mull New Tactics with North

South Korean conservative activists burn North Korea flags and mock missiles during a rally denouncing North's nuclear program in Seoul, South Korea, June 25, 2009. AP Photo/Lee Jin-man

The U.S. and South Korea are hatching a "comprehensive" strategy for persuading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, breaking from the step-by-step process that has seen Pyongyang backtrack on pledges.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell discussed the new strategy with chief South Korean nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac during talks Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said.

The possibility of a new approach came as Pyongyang's isolated communist regime hardened its boycott of international nuclear talks after carrying out its second atomic weapons test and test-firing a barrage of banned missiles in defiance of U.N. sanctions.

Campbell first spoke of the idea Saturday, saying the U.S. and its partners would be prepared to offer a "comprehensive package that would be attractive" to North Korea if it returned to multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear programs and took irreversible steps to disarm.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told lawmakers Monday that such a package approach would be aimed at resolving all outstanding issues at once by putting all of North Korea's obligations and demands on the table.

Yu did not elaborate but said disarming the North in phases, the approach the talks have pursued so far, is difficult because the North can reverse the steps it has taken.

"We can't repeat the past negotiating pattern" of rewarding North Korea for partial denuclearization steps, ministry spokesman Moon said. "We plan to continue consultations with related countries about a comprehensive solution."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Monday that the U.S. is willing to do its part if North Korea agrees to resume the nuclear dialogue and take steps toward nuclear disarmament.

"The ball is in North Korea's court," Crowley said, noting that North Korea will pay a significant price unless it returns to talks.

North Korea agreed in February 2007 to disable its nuclear reactor as a step toward its ultimate dismantlement in exchange for energy aid and political concessions.

However, a year ago, Pyongyang halted the process and later abandoned the pact over a dispute on how to verify its nuclear activities - after it had received most of the promised energy aid and concessions, such as removal from the U.S. blacklist of states sponsoring terrorism.

The standoff led to Pyongyang conducting its second nuclear test in May and banned missile tests early this month, provocations which some analysts believed were aimed at drawing the attention of the new U.S. administration.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said U.S. was intentionally playing down the impact of North Korea's nuclear tests.

"We weren't going to give the North Koreans the satisfaction they were looking for, which was to elevate them to center stage," Clinton said in an ABC interview broadcast Monday from India.

The North also quit the talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions in April in anger over a U.N. rebuke for launching a long-range rocket. The country's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong Nam, said last week that the nuclear talks are permanently over.

Campbell, at the start of talks with Wi, said: "We need to make sure that we're extremely closely coordinated in a very critical period ahead."

The two also talked about implementing U.N. sanctions punishing Pyongyang for its latest atomic test and getting the communist regime to return to nuclear negotiations, Moon said.

South Korea's coast guard said Monday that it is drawing up guidelines on how to inspect North Korean ships suspected of carrying banned items - a process that is expected to enrage Pyongyang, which has warned it would consider such inspections a declaration of war.

The move to inspect ships is in line with recent U.N. sanctions that clamp down on North Korea's alleged trading of banned arms and weapons-related material, a key source of hard currency for the impoverished nation.

A coast guard official said the guidelines would call for inspecting North Korean ships traveling in South Korean waters if there is concrete evidence they carry banned items. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, did not give details.

A North Korea ship suspected of heading toward Myanmar with banned items on board turned back earlier this month after being trailed by the U.S. Navy as part of the U.N. resolution.
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