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Will S. Korea proposal energize nuclear talks?

South Korea offered to supply North Korea with 2 million kilowatts of electricity.

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No sooner had Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice landed here Tuesday, on the last leg of her Asian swing, than South Korea announced what she described Wednesday as a "very creative idea" to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear-weapons program.

The proposal would supply 2 million kilowatts of electricity - half the foundering North's total energy needs - to be delivered across the demilitarized zone that has divided the two Koreas for decades.

Rice's measured response suggest that differences still exist between Seoul and Washington, which is committed to taking a hard line toward North Korea but is eager to smooth over any sign of a rift with South Korea in the South's pursuit of Korean reconciliation. While repeatedly insisting on her trip that North Korea give up its weapons program as a prerequisite for further aid, Rice said the South's proposal would be "very easy" to include in six-party discussions, which the North agreed this weekend to rejoin at the end of the month.

So far North Korea has given no real clue of how it will respond. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has frequently reaffirmed his desire for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, only to backtrack on his word. Meanwhile, analysts maintain that nuclear parity with the US is the North's ultimate goal.

"North Korea wants to be a nuclear power," says Choi Jin Wook, senior research fellow at the Korea Institute of National Unification. "It wants to negotiate with the United States on that basis."

South Koreans see the latest proposal as crucial to a deal that would replace the 1994 Geneva agreement, under which North Korea stopped making warheads with plutonium. That agreement unraveled after the North in October 2002 acknowledged a separate program for building warheads with uranium. North Korea says it has resumed production of plutonium warheads but denies the existence of the uranium program.

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