South Korea pushes to restart nuclear talks with North

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea called on Monday for a new push to restart dialogue with North Korea on ending its nuclear arms program as Washington seeks to increase pressure on Pyongyang with punishment for its atomic and missile tests.

North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in May, has quit six-party talks that promised it massive aid and diplomatic rewards and said it will expand its nuclear arsenal as defense against a “hostile” United States.

The on-again-off-again talks involved the two Koreas, host China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

South Korea’s top nuclear envoy said Seoul and Washington were on the same page on enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions designed to cut off the North’s lucrative arms trade but more needed to be done to bring Pyongyang back to dialogue.

“(As) you put it yesterday on the form of two-track approach, we have to think about resumption of dialogue as well,” South Korea’s Wi Sung-lac told U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell, who is visiting Seoul.

Campbell said at the weekend the United States was ready to hold talks with North Korea if the conditions were right but will also press sanctions to punish Pyongyang for provocative actions.

The U.N. Security Council on Thursday expanded the list of North Korean bodies and individuals under sanctions for nuclear and missile activities, adding its atomic energy agency and two of its top officials.

North Korea has rattled regional security with the nuclear test, threats to attack the South and the test-launch of seven ballistic missiles earlier this month in defiance of a U.N. resolution.

South Korean government officials said the military moves were aimed at building internal support for leader Kim Jong-il, 67, who is reportedly in poor health and wants to prepare for his youngest son to succeed him in Asia’s only communist dynasty.

Campbell leaves South Korea later on Monday for Phuket, where all the countries of the six-way talks will be represented at a regional security forum.

Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Nick Macfie