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Defense Secretary Panetta skeptical on North Korea talks

By Reuters
Thursday, October 27, 2011 7:16 EDT
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SEOUL (Reuters) – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Thursday he was skeptical about talks with North Korea after a meeting between the two countries in Geneva this week that failed to arrive at any agreements.

Panetta, on his first trip to South Korea since taking over the Pentagon in July, renewed warnings that the reclusive North should be seen as a serious threat. Washington needed to be vigilant even as it pursues dialogue with Pyongyang, he added.

“We always have to be vigilant in the way we approach North Korea because there is a history here of accommodation and provocation,” Panetta told reporters traveling with him.

The United States ended two days of meetings with North Korea on Tuesday, sounding somewhat upbeat about an eventual return to wider talks on ending Pyongyang’s atomic programs but saying there was no immediate breakthrough.

But Panetta acknowledged that he shared the skepticism voiced by U.S. military officials in South Korea, who fear diplomatic engagement by Pyongyang may be short-lived.

“There’s an indication that some progress was made (in Geneva) but that they haven’t arrived at any agreements and we’re not sure where those talks are headed at this point,” Panetta said.

“And so for that reason, I guess the word skepticism would be in order at this time as to what may or may not happen in those discussions.”

Should Pyongyang again find engagement has run its course, analysts fear it could test another nuclear weapon or pick new fights with Seoul. North Korea was blamed for killing some 50 South Koreans in two attacks near their contested maritime border in 2010.

The North also unveiled a uranium enrichment facility last year that gives it a second route to making an atomic bomb.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)

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