View Full Version : North Korea Agrees to Six-Nation Nuclear Talks This Month; Powell Optimistic

lucky wilbury
02-04-2004, 02:50 AM

North Korea Agrees to Six-Nation Nuclear Talks This Month; Powell Optimistic

By Sang-Hun Choe Associated Press Writer
Published: Feb 3, 2004

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korea agreed Tuesday to resume six-nation talks Feb. 25 - a breakthrough in American-led efforts to persuade the communist state to abandon its nuclear weapons programs for economic and other concessions from Washington.

In its first pronouncement since agreeing to the talks, North Korea repeated Wednesday that the United States should compensate Pyongyang in exchange for freezing its nuclear weapons programs as a first step in resolving a 15 month-old standoff.

"The United States has not at all changed its demand that we first give up our nuclear programs," the North's chief negotiator Kim Ryong Song said, according to pool reports after high-level talks in Seoul between officials from the two Koreas. "What is important is resolving the issue through our proposal of simultaneous action."

For months, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas have haggled over resuming the talks, which have stalled since the first six-nation meeting ended in August without much progress.

The new round of nuclear talks, to begin in Beijing, is expected to take up North Korea's offer to freeze its nuclear programs as the first step toward what the Bush administration hopes will be a complete dismantling of them.

"We hope that these talks will be successful," Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The nuclear dispute started in October 2002 when U.S. officials accused North Korea of running a uranium program in violation of a 1994 deal requiring the North to freeze nuclear facilities. The United States then suspended critical oil shipments to the North in retaliation.

North Korea has denied having a uranium program and has neither confirmed nor denied having atomic weapons.

In response to the U.S. actions, the communist government expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors at the end of 2002 and later withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, saying it had reactivated its nuclear facilities.

North Korea has said it would suspend its nuclear programs as a first step in talks if Washington lifts sanctions, resumes oil shipments and removes North Korea from its list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

The United States has said North Korea must first begin dismantling its nuclear programs. U.S. officials believe the North already has one or two nuclear bombs and could make several more within months.

While the United States is willing to see where the North's proposal leads, its ultimate objective is the elimination of Pyongyang's program, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday.

"A freeze is not our goal," Boucher said.

Kim of North Korea stressed Wednesday that a freeze was a step toward a settlement.

"What we want is that each other lower their guns and live in harmony," Kim said. "We want simultaneous action in that sense, and if the United States cannot implement that in whole, we are demanding as a first step 'freeze vs. compensation,' compensating measures for a freeze."

Kim said progress at the Beijing talks hinged on Washington's stance.

President Bush has accused North Korea of being part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and prewar Iraq.

Hours after the North's official news agency, KCNA, said the reclusive Stalinist government agreed to return to the negotiating table, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said China would host the session.

Officials in Washington, Tokyo, and Seoul welcome the North's freeze proposal, but have yet to reveal publicly what concessions they would provide in return. In the coming talks, they also want the North to commit firmly to what they call a "complete, irrevocable and verifiable dismantling" of its nuclear programs.

In Moscow, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov said there was a "great" difference between the positions of Washington and Pyongyang, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

"Not a breakthrough but an understanding in what direction to develop the negotiating process is necessary" at the Beijing meeting, he said.

A State Department official said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is expected to head the U.S. delegation. Kelly headed the American team for the first round in Beijing.

AP-ES-02-03-04 2320EST