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Shots at sea risk to Korean talks

An anti-U.S. demonstrator ties a flower to a cloth in front of riot police near the U.S. military's main headquarters in South Korea.
An anti-U.S. demonstrator ties a flower to a cloth in front of riot police near the U.S. military's main headquarters in South Korea.

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• Analysis: What are the options?
• Six-nation talks: Where they stand
• Interactive: N. Korea military might
• Timeline: Nuclear development
• Interactive: The nuclear club
• Satellite image: Nuclear facility
• Special report: Nuclear crisis

BEIJING, China -- South Korea has fired warning shots at a boat from North Korea, according to the defense ministry in Seoul.

Shots were fired Monday to drive back a vessel that was violating the South's territorial waters in the Yellow Sea, South Korean officials said. No casualties were reported.

The incident comes just nine days ahead of scheduled six-nation talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

North Korea's official news agency appeared to be standing firm ahead of the talks, repeating Monday it could not dismantle its nuclear deterrent force if the United States did not abandon its "hostile policy" toward Pyongyang.

The official KCNA news agency demanded Washington sign a non-aggression pact with North Korea, establish diplomatic ties and make clear it would not hinder Pyongyang's foreign trade.

"If the U.S. does not express its will to make a switchover in its policy towards the DPRK the DPRK will have no option but to declare that it cannot dismantle its nuclear deterrent force at the talks," KCNA said. DPRK are the initials for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The talks between North Korea, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea are set to start on August 27.

China's Xinhua news agency said a high-ranking Chinese military delegation left for Pyongyang on Monday for a "goodwill" visit ahead of the talks.

Leading role

North Korea has repeatedly asked for a non-aggression pact from Washington.
North Korea has repeatedly asked for a non-aggression pact from Washington.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard plans to press China to maintain a leading role in the effort to halt North Korea's nuclear ambitions, and ask Beijing to consider setting up a free trade zone in talks on Monday. (Full story)

Analysts say it is unclear whether the five nations taking part in the talks can convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear plans.

Despite the challenges facing the diplomatic coalition, Chinese analysts say Beijing is wary of putting too much pressure on Pyongyang.

"China is also worried that if North Korea is offended or forced to a corner, and if North Korea is desperate, the situation would spin out of control," Jin Canrong, professor of International Relations at People's University, told Reuters news agency.

North Korea has also criticized the United States over its steps to put economic pressure on the regime, labelling the moves as "blackmail."

Last week, North Korea rejected ideas floated by the United States and others that fell short of a non-aggression pact, including written U.S. pledges not to attack and talk of collective regional security guarantees for Pyongyang.

Further adding to the sense of mistrust between the two Koreas, Pyongyang has pulled out of the world university games in South Korea, citing safety concerns after anti-North protests in Seoul last week. (Full story)

Tension on the peninsula rose in October after North Korea told the United States it had a covert nuclear weapons program, in violation of a pact with Washington.

Since then it has upped the nuclear ante, kicking out U.N. inspectors and pulling out of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

At three-way talks in Beijing in April, a North Korean official told the United States the country already had nuclear bombs and was preparing to make more.

The Bush administration has responded to the North Korean agreement to attend multilateral talks by saying it is prepared to support incentives for North Korea if Pyongyang guarantees to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

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