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North Korea agrees to nuclear talks



BEIJING - The U.S. and Chinese governments announced Tuesday that North Korea agreed to rejoin six-nation nuclear disarmament talks, a surprise diplomatic breakthrough that comes only three weeks after the communist regime conducted its first known atomic test.


The agreement was struck in a day of unpublicized discussions between the senior envoys from the United States, China and North Korea at a government guesthouse in Beijing. The U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said the six-nation negotiations could resume as early as November or December.


"We took a step today toward getting this process back on track. This process has suffered a lot in recent weeks by the actions the DPRK has made," Hill told reporters afterward. DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name


The agreement is one of the first signs of easing tensions since North Korea conducted the underground detonation on Oct. 9, defying warnings from both the United States and Japan and its staunchest ally, China.


It also marks a diplomatic victory for China and the United States, which worked closely together in the wake of the test, but especially for Beijing. Though stung by Pyongyang's test, China had counseled against punishing North Korea too harshly, weakening a U.N. resolution sanctioning Pyongyang, and suggested leaving a path for diplomacy.


President Bush welcomed the agreement


"I am pleased and I want to thank the Chinese," the president told reporters in the Oval Office, after meeting with Andrew Natsios, his special envoy on Sudan.


But he said the agreement would not halt the U.S. efforts to enforce the U.N Security Council resolution that imposed sanctions on trade in military materials and luxury goods in response to the North's atomic test.


State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the U.S. would enter the new round of talks insisting they start with a September 2005 agreement forged between the six nations, in which Pyongyang pledged to scrap its nuclear programs in return for aid and security assurances.


Talks between the U.S. and North Korea over its nuclear programs have had a tortuous history, beginning in a 1990s round that led to a freeze which the Bush administration claims Pyongyang violated.


Starting first as a three-way parlay with Beijing, the current round of negotiations then added Japan, Russia and South Korea


, before holding three on-again, off-again sessions. The negotiations stalled after the U.S. imposed financial sanctions over alleged counterfeiting and money laundering activities by Pyongyang and North Korea withdrew in November 2005.


Both the U.S. and North Korea showed flexibility at Tuesday's meeting, Hill said, with Washington agreeing to discuss the financial sanctions. The U.S. previously had said the issue was unrelated to talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.


Pyongyang did not make the lifting of the financial sanctions a condition for resuming the talks, Hill said.


At the talks, Pyongyang's negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan, "made the point" that North Korea considered itself a nuclear power, Hill said. "I made it very clear that the United States does not accept the DPRK as a nuclear power and neither does China."


Other partners in the talks — Japan, Russia and South Korea — had mixed reactions to the announcement.

South Korea, which like China has urged engagement with Pyongyang, and

Russia were optimistic about the prospects of resuming the negotiations.


"The government hopes that the six-party talks will resume at an early date as agreed," South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said.



Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev said that Moscow views North Korea's decision as "extremely positive," ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies reported.


But Japan, which feels threatened by North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, took a more skeptical line.


While Tokyo welcomed the prospect of a new round of talks, it "does not intend to accept North Korea's return to the talks on the premise that it possess nuclear weapons," public broadcaster NHK quoted Japanese Foreign

Minister Taro Aso as saying.


Aso added that a resumption of talks "is conditional on North Korea not possessing nuclear weapons."


Calls to the North Korean Embassy in Beijing seeking comment went unanswered.


China's Foreign Ministry released a brief statement, the first word of the breakthrough, saying that an agreement was struck on North Korea's rejoining the talks, but issued no other comment.


Hill cautioned that much work needed to be done to prepare for the resumption of talks. "We're a long way from our goals here," he said. "I have not broken out the champagne and cigars yet."


Key in the coming days, Hill said, would be intense preparations by all parties to make sure a new round would deal substantively with an agreement reached at the last session of six-party talks in September 2005.

Among the issues would be how would North Korea takes steps to ultimately give up its nuclear programs, he said. Other issues, such as a South Korean proposal to provide electricity to the impoverished North and how to set up mechanism, perhaps a working group, to discuss the U.S. financial sanctions, also were likely be explored, he said.


Hill described intense backstage Chinese efforts to get the six-party talks on track, saying Beijing contacted Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice late last week to ask if she would dispatch him to Beijing for a three-way discussion with North Korea.



Hill, who had been in the South Pacific at a forum of regional governments, cut short a visit to Australia, arriving in Beijing late Monday for Tuesday's talks.

A U.N. committee has been determining how to implement the sanctions on the North's weapons trade and imports of luxury goods.


Washington has been seeking to gather support for the sanctions, and getting the North's top two trading partners — China and South Korea — to pressure the regime.


North Korea is believed to have enough radioactive material to make about a half-dozen bombs, but estimates vary due to limited intelligence about its nuclear program.


The apparent North Korean agreement followed a day of typically bellicose rhetoric from Pyongyang.


North Korea warned South Korea on Tuesday against participating in a U.S.-led international drive to stop and search ships carrying weapons of mass destruction, saying involvement would bring about unspecified "catastrophic consequences."


The warning released by Pyongyang's official news agency came as South

Korea is considering whether to fully participate in the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative aimed at interdicting shipments of weapons of mass destruction and other suspected cargo.


Seoul has been reluctant to take full part in the initiative out of concern it may anger North Korea and complicate efforts to resolve the international standoff.

Instead, it has sent observers to drills and attended briefings.

Associated Press reporters Burt Herman, Bo-mi Lim and Meraiah Foley in Seoul, South Korea, and Jennifer Loven in Washington contributed to this report.

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U.S. set to discuss North Korea finances


By BO-MI LIM, Associated Press Writer

SEOUL, South Korea - The main U.S. envoy to South Korea said Thursday that Washington will seek to resolve financial restrictions on North Korea that have hindered nuclear talks, after Pyongyang agreed to return to the negotiations following its nuclear test.


U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said Washington has agreed to form a working group on the financial issue amid the six-nation nuclear talks that North Korea agreed this week to rejoin the first sign of a relaxation of tensions after the North's Oct. 9 test.


"We want to resolve these issues because we do want to have a normal relationship with North Korea," Vershbow said in a lecture to university students, referring to the standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over U.S. moves to cut off the communist nation's access to foreign banks for alleged illicit activities like counterfeiting and money laundering.


Pyongyang has said it will seek to have the financial restrictions lifted at the resumed talks, last held in November 2005. They involve the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S.


No date has been set for the next round of talks, but South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said Wednesday it would be held after the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC , scheduled for Nov. 18-19 in Vietnam.


China said the sooner the talks resume, the better.


"It is our belief that it would be better to hold the meeting as early as possible," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a regular news briefing.


Liu also said China would maintain United Nation sanctions on North Korea despite the latest breakthrough.


President Roh Moo-hyun said South Korea would keep its relations with North Korea "friendly" despite the communist regime's nuclear test — a sign that Seoul will seek to mend ties that were strained by the North's missile tests in July and worsened after the North's Oct. 9 nuclear test.


"We will continue to maintain the relations with North Korea in a friendly manner to safeguard our freedom and stability," Roh told a business forum. "We won't put anything above peace."


The North's nuclear test increased security threats, but hasn't significantly shaken the balance of military power between the two Koreas, Roh said.


South Korea has said it would take steps to punish North Korea under a U.N. sanctions resolution for its nuclear test, but has also voiced concern that harsh actions not worsen the situation.


Vershbow, however, said the U.N. sanctions resolution "remains in force ... until North Korea denuclearizes."


Japan's Foreign Ministry said two senior U.S. officials will visit Tokyo this weekend to discuss the six-party talks. One of the American diplomats will also visit Seoul next week, according to South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho.


The two Koreas remain technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire, rather than a peace treaty, but relations have significantly warmed since 2000 when their leaders held their first and only summit.


The U.N. Security Council approved a list of hundreds of items that could be used to make nuclear, chemical and biological weapons or ballistic missiles, and that are banned from trade with North Korea.


The sanctions also call for freezing the assets of businesses connected to the North's nuclear and ballistic weapons programs, restrictions on luxury goods sales to the country and travel bans on its officials.



South Korea's Yonhap news agency cited unidentified government officials as saying the six parties to the disarmament talks want to hold "unofficial" preparatory meetings to lay the groundwork for significant progress when formal negotiations resume.


But a senior South Korean official familiar with the nuclear issue dismissed the report, saying, "I don't think there is high possibility" of such a meeting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the issue's sensitivity.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry also announced that Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, the next U.N. secretary-general, will travel Sunday to Japan for talks with Japanese leaders on North Korea and other issues. Ban plans to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Aso, the ministry said.

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North Korea says Japan not welcome at nuclear talks


By Jack Kim





SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Saturday Japan should not bother to attend six-country nuclear talks because Tokyo is refusing to recognize the reclusive communist country as a nuclear weapons state.


"There is no need for Japan to participate in (the talks) as a local delegate because it is no more than a state of the U.S. and it is enough for Tokyo just to be informed of the results of the talks by Washington," North Korea's foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.


Japan's refusal to accept the North as a nuclear weapons state when the talks resume later this year proved they were "political imbeciles incapable of judging the trend of the situation," said the statement carried by the North's official Korea Central News Agency.


North Korea agreed on Tuesday to return to the talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States after snubbing them for a year in protest over a U.S. crackdown on its international finances.


North Korea conducted its first nuclear test on October 9 and is now referring to itself as "a responsible nuclear weapons state."


"It is unacceptable that North Korea returns to the six-party talks on the premise that it has become a nuclear weapons state," Noriyuki Shikata, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Saturday.




A South Korean government official said it was "preposterous" to assert the goal of the talks has changed since an agreement in principle was reached in September 2005, under which North Korea would dismantle its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees.


But some analysts said Pyongyang's nuclear test and agreement to return to the talks three weeks later likely marked the beginning of North Korea's pursuit to turn the six-way talks into bilateral arms reduction negotiations with the United States.


North Korea has feuded with Japan over the abduction of at least 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and the 1980s, and criticized Japan for raising the issue at the six-way talks.


Tokyo has been implementing U.N. sanctions imposed after the North launched ballistic missiles in July and in moving to apply additional U.N. measures after Pyongyang conducted its nuclear test.


Pyongyang's number two official said on Friday that North Korea agreed to come back to the six-party talks to give the United States a face-saving way out of the impasse, and it was now Washington's turn to show good faith by ending the financial crackdown.


"The result of the six-party talks depends on the attitude of the U.S.," the president of North Korea's assembly, Kim Yong-nam, was quoted as saying by South Korea's leftist Democratic Labour Party, whose delegation was visiting Pyongyang.


The Bush administration had "used the six-way talks as a campaign tactic" in next week's mid-term elections instead of working to resolve the conflict between the two countries, Kim was quoted as saying.


Washington has said it was willing to discuss at the talks the North's illicit activities that triggered a financial crackdown on a Macau-based bank.


Japanese police sources were cited as saying in Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper on Saturday that North Korea used accounts at Banco Delta Asia to buy equipment that could be used to develop biological and nuclear weapons.

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N. Korea won't abandon nukes


TOKYO - A senior North Korean diplomat strongly indicated that his country has no plans to abandon nuclear weapons, despite its agreement to return to six-nation disarmament talks, according to news reports Wednesday.


North Korea 's deputy foreign minister, Kang Sok Ju, speaking to a group of reporters while passing through Beijing from Russia, instead demanded that the United States lift financial sanctions against the North, Japan's NHK television and Kyodo News agency said.


Kang said North Korea had not tested nuclear weapons only to get rid of them, the reports said.


"Why would we abandon nuclear weapons?" NHK and Kyodo quoted Kang as saying in a Japanese translation of his comments in Korean. "Are you saying we conducted a nuclear test in order to abandon them?"


Asked if Pyongyang planned to demand the U.S. lift sanctions, Kang said, "of course," NHK and Kyodo reported.


A nuclear test by North Korea on Oct. 9 triggered international condemnation and sanctions.


In September 2005, Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid, but it withdrew from the talks with the U.S., China, South Korea , Japan and Russia two months later, protesting Washington's financial sanctions over suspected money laundering.


Pyongyang agreed this month to return to the talks, which may resume next month.

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N.Korea eyes 2nd test if dispute not resolved


By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea will feel compelled to announce plans for another nuclear test if a financial row with Washington is not settled, a source said on Wednesday as the latest talks wound up with no signs of a breakthrough.


U.S. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary Daniel Glaser, after meeting North Korean officials in Beijing on the financial dispute, described discussions as "painstaking."


The U.S. Treasury has accused North Korea of using Macau's Banco Delta Asia to launder earnings from counterfeit U.S. dollars and drug trafficking.


But a source close to the North Korean government said Pyongyang felt Washington lacked evidence of wrongdoing and wanted a quick solution.


North Korea was likely to express its frustration when it comes to six-party talks, aimed at dismantling its nuclear programs, scheduled for February 8 in Beijing, the source said.


"If the United States does not resolve it, North Korea will have no choice but to announce at the six-party talks that it plans to conduct another test," the source told Reuters after being briefed by a North Korean official.


The last session of talks grouping the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China was held in December -- two months after Pyongyang dramatically raised the stakes by holding its first nuclear test. It yielded no breakthrough.


The December session snagged over Pyongyang's complaints about the U.S. financial crackdown that led to Macau freezing $24 million in North Korean accounts.


Glaser told reporters he was sure North Korea was up to no good at the Macau bank. "We've been vindicated with respect to our concerns," he said.

But he said the latest talks, following negotiations in December, had yielded hopes of a settlement. The negotiators had discussed almost 50 account holders in the Macau bank, he said.


"We got some information that was very helpful to us," Glaser said, adding there was hope "to start moving forward and trying to bring some resolution to this matter."


There would be more financial talks, but no date has been set, Glaser said, adding that U.S. concerns went well beyond the Macau bank.




China's envoy to the six-party talks, Wu Dawei, told reporters that the next session could be relatively short, apparently placing an onus on negotiators, including North Korea's, to reach a deal this time.


"I hope the meeting can complete its talks in three to four days," Wu said. The success of the talks, he said, "requires efforts of all parties."


But U.S. officials have held out little hope of a quick resolution to the financial dispute, and Russia and South Korea also cautioned against expectations of a breakthrough.


"I think there is almost no chance of finding concrete, significant agreements during these talks," Russia's Alexander Losyukov, a deputy foreign minister, told Interfax news agency.



The Beijing-based source described the U.S. financial curbs as a "huge insult" to a sovereign country.


"If the United States does not resolve it, North Korea would be a 'sinner' taking part in the six-party talks ... North Korea would have no face and could not be on equal footing with the other parties at the six-party talks.


"The United States has no evidence, just like it had no evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," the source said.


In Washington, the State Department said the U.S. view was that the financial dispute was separate from the six-way talks. "The financial discussions are not being held as part of six party talks and they are not related to issues of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

The North Korean Embassy in Beijing declined to comment. The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment.

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Korean nuclear deal delays disarmament


By ALEXA OLESEN, Associated Press Writer

BEIJING - A hard-won disarmament pact that the U.S. and four other nations struck with N. Korea on Tuesday requires the communist nation to halt its nuclear programs in exchange for oil while leaving the ultimate abandonment of those weapons projects to a potentially trouble-filled future.


In a sign of potential problems to come, North Korea's state news agency said the country was receiving 1 million tons of oil for a "temporary suspension" of its nuclear facilities — and failed to mention the full disarmament for which the agreement calls.


It wasn't clear if the report represented an attempt by the government to backtrack on the deal, or was simply a statement of bluster for a deeply impoverished domestic audience that Pyongyang has rallied around the nuclear program as a cause for national pride.


And by tackling so many issues in a process likely to take years, the deal could unravel, pulled apart by differing agendas of its six signers, which also include China, S. Korea, Russia and Japan.


"We have a lot of work to do," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters. "It's certainly not the end of the process, it's really just the end of the beginning of the process."


Nevertheless, the agreement marks a turnabout for North Korea, which rattled the world only four months ago when it tested a nuclear device. If Pyongyang follows through with its promises, they would be the first moves the communist state has made to scale back its atomic development since it kicked out international inspectors and restarted its sole operating nuclear reactor in 2003.

"These talks represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea's nuclear programs,'' President Bush said in a statement. "They reflect the common commitment of the participants to a Korean Peninsula that is free of nuclear weapons."


Robert J. Einhorn, a former State Department official who visited North Korea with then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, said Americans should applaud the agreement, but he predicted it would come under heavy questioning from both the right and the left.


He said, "I think a number of people are going to ask the question, `Couldn't this deal have been concluded three or four years ago before North Korea conducted its nuclear test and acquired enough additional plutonium to build anywhere from six to 10 nuclear weapons?'"


The accord, completed at a Chinese government guesthouse by negotiators from six countries after tortuous talks, lays out an ambitious agenda. It sets a firm 60-day timetable for North Korea to seal its main nuclear reactor and begin accounting for other nuclear programs.


Within that time, more talks are planned on ending the hostilities between North Korea and the United States and Japan that have made northeast Asia a tense corner of the world. In return, North Korea will receive 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, a modest down payment on a promised 1 million tons in oil or aid of a similar value if it ultimately disarms. One million tons of oil would be equivalent to more than two-thirds of North Korea's entire oil consumption in 2004, according to the CIA Factbook. Hill said the aid package was worth about $250 million at current prices.


In the negotiations, envoys debated who would pay for North Korea's disarmament. China, the U.S., South Korea and Russia agreed to foot the bill though Moscow may contribute in the form of debt relief. Japan has refused to provide aid until Pyongyang fully accounts for the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea.


"We understand it marks the first concrete step by North Korea toward its nuclear dismantlement," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after the accord was struck in Beijing. "But our position that Japan cannot provide support without a resolution of the abduction issue is unchanged."

Disarmament, however, is likely to remain the thorniest problem.


"What if North Korea doesn't show them to inspectors, if they say we've stopped this and shut down that, what if they say you have to trust us?" said Liu Gongliang, a physicist at China's Institute of Applied Physics and Computational Mathematics who has followed North Korea's nuclear program for the Chinese government.


Under the deal, the North is required to seal its main nuclear reactor and related facilities at Yongbyon, north of the capital, within 60 days and allow inspections by the IAEA.


Senior IAEA figures have met regularly with North Korean diplomats in past months preparing for such a mission, and a diplomat familiar with the status of preparations told The Associated Press that IAEA inspectors could be on site "within days" once given the go-ahead.



But no timetable was set for a final declaration by North Korea of all its nuclear programs and their ultimate dismantling.


North Korea has sidestepped previous agreements. It allegedly operated its uranium-based weapons program even as it froze a plutonium-based one, sparking the latest nuclear crisis in late 2002. The country is believed to have countless mountainside tunnels in which to hide projects.


The uranium program was not explicitly addressed in the agreement. But, Hill said, "I certainly have made very clear repeatedly that we need to ensure that we know precisely the status of that."


The nuclear issue has frequently been ensnarled by lingering frictions between the North and its neighbors, as well as a dispute over U.S. sanctions against the regime for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting activities. Hill said the sanctions issue would be resolved within 30 days, but didn't provide specifics.

The United States will also begin the process of removing North Korea from its designation as a terror-sponsoring state and also on ending U.S. trade sanctions, but no deadlines have been was set, according to the agreement.


Washington's blacklisting of a Macau bank in September 2005 had led the North to a more-than-yearlong boycott of the six-nation talks during which it tested its first nuclear bomb.

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U.S. holds out North Korea deal as model for Iran


By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Tuesday held out as a model for Iran a deal under which N. Korea will take steps toward giving up nuclear arms, and analysts said it might bolster Iranians who favor talks with the West.


White House spokesman Tony Snow called the deal a "template," but some analysts cautioned that the United States would have less leverage with Iran than with impoverished, communist North Korea.


Under an agreement struck in Beijing, Pyongyang will freeze the reactor at the heart of its nuclear program and allow inspections of the site. The pact could bring the impoverished communist state some $300 million in aid.


Unlike Libya's 2003 decision to abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs before getting any tangible U.S. benefits, the North Korea deal is an incremental approach in which Pyongyang is rewarded as it moves toward what the United States hopes will ultimately be a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.


Proliferation experts said the deal, hammered out in talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, demonstrated the Bush administration's willingness to abandon some of its hard-line positions and make compromises.


"We see a pattern developing. We negotiated a deal with Libya. Now we are negotiating a deal with North Korea. They give up their weapons programs in exchange for a new relationship with the United States. That model seems a lot preferable to the Iraq model," said Joseph Cirincione of the Center for American Progress think tank.


"North Korea was a more difficult deal than Libya and Iran will be more difficult still, but the approach is clear," he added. "A successful deal with North Korea will be a powerful argument in Tehran for those who favor negotiating."


The United States has offered to talk to Iran about its nuclear programs and any other issues between the two countries -- which do not have diplomatic relations -- if Tehran suspended its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.


Iran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful power generation, has refused to take up the offer.




Some analysts argued that to give benefits to North Korea, which carried out a nuclear test on October 9, before it fully abandoned its nuclear programs was to reward it for unacceptable behavior.


Heritage Foundation analyst Bruce Klingner said the Beijing agreement would send "a dangerously accommodating signal not only to North Korea, but also to Iran and any other aspiring nuclear weapons state."


Snow said Pyongyang had come back to the table "because the international community asserted pressure, they felt the pressure and they understood that we were serious."


"We hope the Iranians are similarly going to return to the table because we have offered some real opportunities for them," he added.


Analysts said the United States is in a far weaker position in dealing with Iran, which unlike North Korea is a rich state, with deep oil reserves and commercial ties with western European nations who may be loathe to apply more pressure.


The war in neighboring Iraq, which has killed more than 3,000 U.S. soldiers and tied down more than 130,000 U.S. troops, has also limited U.S. military options toward Iran.


"Our hand is not particularly strong, but it might be strong enough to convince the Iranians to accept a temporary suspension on its enrichment programs in order to engage in multinational negotiations and find out what kind of a deal would be on the table," said said Gary Samore, director of studies at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

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