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. North Korea Switches Focus, Hopes For Nuclear Talks Diminish

Washington believes that North Korea may have two crude nuclear devices. Experts say it may have reprocessed enough plutonium for half a dozen more since the standoff erupted and it kicked out international monitors and pulled out of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.
Seoul (AFP) Apr 01, 2005
Hopes for a speedy resumption of six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons drive faded last Friday after Pyongyang declared itself a nuclear power on a par with Washington and said its new goal was regional disarmament.

Analysts said that the North Korean statement that nuclear crisis talks should be turned into a disarmament forum injected doubt into an already complicated search for a resolution to a standoff that dates back to October

North Korea said last Thursday that six-way talks were no longer adequate, because while the negotiations had been going on, it had developed from a country seeking nuclear weapons to a full-fledged nuclear power.

Washington still thinks North Korea should abandon its nuclear ambitions, the White House spokesman said Friday, implicitly rejecting the latest conditions Pyongyang set out for talks to resume.

"We have a proposal that we put forward at the last round of talks ... we believe it's important for North Korea to come back to the six-party talks so that we can talk about how we move forward on that proposal," spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

"We have no preconditions for the talks," he said. "North Korea needs to make a strategic decision, and that decision is to abandon their nuclear weapons ambition.

Three rounds of talks bringing together the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have been held, with the first round in August 2003 and the last taking place in June last year in Beijing. North Korea failed to show up for a fourth round, scheduled for September 2004.

"Now that the DPRK (North Korea) has become a full-fledged nuclear weapons state, the six-party talks should be disarmament talks where the participating countries negotiate the issue on an equal footing,", North Korea said in a foreign ministry statement released by its official Korean Central News Agency.

At the core of the crisis is Washington's own arsenal of nuclear weapons, according to the North Koreans, arguing that it was because of the threat of preemptive nuclear attack from Washington that North Korea was driven to go nuclear in the first place. So those US nuclear weapons should be on the table at any future talks.

And those talks should focus on ways "to completely remove the US threat of nukes and a nuclear war from the peninsula and its vicinity," the statement said.

In an interview with Yonhap news agency, Han Song-Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, said the statement was also meant to underline the need for a peace treaty to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

"We have been persistent in our position that the armistice agreement must be replaced with a peace treaty during the past rounds of six-party talks but this demand has been consistently ignored by the US side," he said.

Since North Korea failed to turn up to the last round of nuclear talks scheduled for Beijing in September, it has been slowly ratcheting up the nuclear standoff, declaring last month that it has made nuclear weapons, that it intended to make more, and finally that it had succeeded in building more bombs.

"With the latest statement, the issue looks as though it will go on, and on, and on," said a Western diplomat based in Seoul.

Washington believes that North Korea may have two crude nuclear devices. Experts say it may have reprocessed enough plutonium for half a dozen more since the standoff erupted and it kicked out international monitors and pulled out of the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

Until now, North Korea has been focusing its nuclear negotiations strategy on gradually raising the price that Washington would be prepared to pay it to eliminate its nuclear weapons, according to analysts.

The latest statement suggests to some that North Korea is playing the same game but hoping to increase the pressure further on the United States following a visit to the region this month by new US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

She said that Washington was running out of patience with North Korea's stalling, and may look at "other options," a possible reference to reporting the issue to the United Nations Security Council.

Yun Duk-Min, an analyst at the state Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul said North Korea was after a bigger economic and diplomatic game than was on offer.

"North Korea seeks to make its possession of nuclear arms a fait accompli and wants to be accepted as a nuclear power like Pakistan," he said. "It wants to gain economic and diplomatic rewards by cutting the nuclear issue down very fine like a salami."

North Korea has never tested a nuclear device, according to officials and experts. Hard evidence from North Korea, one of the world's most secretive regimes, is difficult to come by and some experts are sceptical about its claims to possess nuclear weapons.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Seoul (AFP) Mar 20, 2005
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