N. Korea interested in deal to halt nukes
LONDON — North Korea has expressed interest in a U.S.-backed proposal that it suspend its nuclear program and allow U.N. inspectors to verify the suspension as an initial step toward dismantling its nuclear capabilities, diplomats said Jan. 18.
During three days of talks in Berlin that ended Jan. 18, North Korea’s chief negotiator, Kim Gyegwan, asked his U.S. counterpart, ChristopherR.Hill,whattheUnited States would be willing to do if the North turned off its nuclear reactor. AU.S.response,ifany,wasnotmade public.
North Korea’s foreign ministry on Jan. 19 called the Hill-Kim talks “sincere and positive.”
In the upbeat assessment, the communist state said the talks yielded “a certain agreement,” but itdeclinedtoelaborateonthenature of the dialogue.
The ministry said the talks were held in a “sincere atmosphere.” Its comments appeared in a statement releasedbythecountry’sofficialKorean Central News Agency.
Mr. Hill flew to South Korea to begin briefing other governments involved in talks with the North. He also plans to visit China and Japan.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States had not changed its policy of refusing to negotiate directly with North Korea overnuclearweapons,butwastrying toprepareforthenextroundoftalks.
“Wearenotgoingoutsidethesixparty framework to bilateralize our discussions with the North Koreans,” Miss Rice said.
Theplanwasfirstpresentedduring six-nation talks in Beijing last month, which ended in deadlock.
In Berlin last week, the North Koreans offered their own ideas about how it could be implemented, said diplomats who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak about the closeddoor sessions.
They also declined to share Mr. Hill’s response.
However, Mr Hill discussed the process of normalizing relations with the North in a speech on Wednesday.
Full normalization of U.S.-North KoreantieswasenvisionedinaSept. 19, 2005, joint statement by the six nations, once the North scrapped its nuclear programs.
Other participants in the talks — Japan,China,SouthKoreaandRussia — also offered political and economic benefits.
“We look forward really to establishing, consistent with our obligations under the September ‘05 agreement, a normal relationship with North Korea,” Mr. Hill told the American Academy in Berlin.
“Obviously, this is via a bilateral process,whichwilltakesometime,” he said. “But we are prepared to go onthatroadandtoreallyofferNorth Korea a hand as it moves along that road.”
After the December talks, South Koreannewsoutletsreportedthata proposal had been made by the United States that included an offer of written security guarantees.
U.S.officialssaidJan.18thatmost oftheideascamefromChina,which hosted the negotiations.
“The Chinese really are the ones who put forward ideas in the last round of the six-party talks, and part of what the North Koreans are responding to [in Berlin] is that,” Miss Rice told reporters traveling with her to London after a five-day Middle East tour.
Whentheproposalwasfirstmade late last month, Mr. Kim refused to respond because he did not have instructionsfromPyongyang.Oncehe receivedthem,herequestedameeting with Mr. Hill, a U.S. official said.
In Berlin, Mr. Hill and Mr. Kim discussed“certainstepstowarddismantling,” although the official insisted they would not amount to a “freeze,” a term used in a failed 1994 nuclear deal known as the Agreed Framework.