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N. Korea nukes worry watchdog

- The Washington Times - Monday, February 28, 2005

VIENNA, Austria (Agence France-Presse) -- North Korea's declaration that it has nuclear weapons "is a matter of the utmost concern and has serious security implications," U.N. atomic agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said yesterday.

In a speech to his International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors, Mr. ElBaradei said that North Korea's recent declaration "that it possesses nuclear weapons is a matter of utmost concern and has serious security implications, and highlights yet again the importance and the urgency of finding a diplomatic solution through dialogue."

North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in December 2002 and withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) the following month.

Pyongyang now says it has atomic weapons and has withdrawn from six-party talks on its nuclear program.

Mr. ElBaradei said that the IAEA, which wants to return to North Korea to carry out its nuclear NPT-mandated monitoring, "stands ready to work with [North Korea], and with all others, towards a solution that addresses both the security needs of [North Korea] and the needs of the international community to ensure that all nuclear activities ... are exclusively for peaceful purposes."

North Korea has told South Korea it would return to talks on its nuclear drive in June and offer to suspend the program in exchange for aid and a U.S. pledge not to invade, a Japanese newspaper reported yesterday.

The communist state told Seoul through unofficial channels about its intention in late February after it announced it was indefinitely pulling out of nuclear talks, the Sankei Shimbun newspaper said, citing Japanese government sources.

The newspaper said North Korea had set June to return to talks because the United States has insisted that Pyongyang come back to the table within a year.

The last six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program were in June 2004 in Beijing. Pyongyang boycotted a fourth round of talks scheduled for that September, citing Washington's "hostile policy."