SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean authorities seized in September four cargo containers belonging to North Korea under U.N. sanctions imposed on the communist state for its defiant missile and nuclear tests, a newspaper reported on Monday.
The reported seizure at the South’s port of Busan comes at a sensitive point as Seoul and the international community attempt finely choreographed diplomacy to bring Pyongyang back to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao began a trip to Pyongyang on Sunday to a rousing welcome, drawing a statement from the North’s premier that Pyongyang was willing to discuss its nuclear weapons.
Wen’s visit, marking the 60th anniversary of formal ties between the two communist states, indicate there have been some assurances from Pyongyang that it was prepared to ease tensions over its nuclear activities, analysts said.
The North conducted a second nuclear test in May and has claimed to have made progress in enriching arms-grade uranium.
The reported seizure of the North’s cargo would be the first by the South under a June Security Council resolution against the North and under the South’s May decision to join the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to cut off trade in weapons of mass destruction.
South Korea’s spy agency and its maritime police declined to comment on the report by the Dong-a Ilbo newspaper.
“We’re not yet at a stage to publicly announce it but it’s true that we have seized containers last month linked to the North,” the newspaper quoted a government official as saying.
Authorities are inspecting the content of the containers seized from a Panama-flagged ship that was about to leave Busan after arriving from China, officials said.
The six-party talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States ground to a halt about a year ago, with Pyongyang saying it would boycott the discussions aimed at ending its nuclear weapons ambitions in return for aid.
North Korea in recent months has tried to improve ties with regional powers, including the United States, after being hit with the U.N. sanctions, which analysts say are straining the North’s already dry coffers.
But many observers doubt North Korea is willing to make real steps toward nuclear disarmament, especially without bilateral negotiations with the United States.
Wen said China approved of the North’s vow to return to dialogue. “The international community universally agrees on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and consultation,” he said.
Reporting by Jack Kim and Cheon Jong-woo; Editing by Jonathan Hopfner and Jeremy Laurence