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U.S. pursues N. Korea nuke talks

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Bush administration plans a series of intensive diplomatic contacts next week in preparation for the resumption of talks in Beijing at the end of the month on North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs, the State Department's lead negotiator for the talks said yesterday.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill told a Washington audience he remained hopeful a statement of principles could be quickly nailed down and an agreement reached to begin removing Pyongyang's nuclear programs by October, but he cautioned the deal was far from done.

"We won't know where we stand until we get back together" to resume negotiations, Mr. Hill said.

The fourth and latest round of the six-party talks recessed Aug. 7 in Beijing after 13 days -- the longest session to date. Negotiations are scheduled to resume sometime during the week of Aug. 29. Taking part in the talks are the United States, North and South Korea, Russia, Japan and host China.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon arrives in Washington Saturday for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials about the talks.

A senior Japanese delegate and perhaps a leading Chinese negotiator are also expected in Washington in preparation for the resumption of talks. Mr. Hill said he had passed word through the diplomatic contacts in New York that he was willing to discuss issues of concern directly with North Korean officials as well.

The Bush administration has demanded North Korea give up its nuclear-weapons programs.

North Korea for its part has demanded security guarantees from Washington and help in meeting its civilian energy and economic needs. It has also demanded the removal of the U.S. nuclear arsenal from the Korean Peninsula, despite U.S. denials that it has any nuclear weapons there.

Mr. Ban will be trying in part to smooth over an apparent rift between Washington and Seoul after a senior South Korean official suggested the North could eventually have a civilian nuclear-energy program if the six-party talks are successful.

Mr. Ban told reporters in Seoul yesterday that the North could only pursue the civilian program if it dismantles its other nuclear programs and rejoins the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, from which it withdrew in protest in 2002.

If Pyongyang meets all those conditions, he said, "in that case the door to its peaceful [nuclear] use may be open."

Mr. Hill yesterday said the U.S. side was focused now on eliminating North Korea's current nuclear programs.

He said Pyongyang likely could not afford a civilian nuclear program and that South Korea had already tabled a proposal to supply the bulk of its future energy needs.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.