- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 24, 2011

MOSCOW (AP) — North Korea is ready to impose a moratorium on nuclear missile tests if international talks on its nuclear program resume, a spokesman for Russia’s president said Wednesday after talks between the two countries’ leaders at a Siberian military base.

Russian news agencies, meanwhile, reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said his country is ready to resume talks “without preconditions.”

Mr. Kim and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met Wednesday at the hotel of a military garrison near the city of Ulan-Ude in Buryatia, a predominantly Buddhist province near Lake Baikal. It was Mr. Kim’s first trip to Russia since 2002.

The six-sided nuclear talks involving North Korea and the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been stalled since December 2008. But faced with deepening sanctions and economic trouble, North Korea is pushing to restart them. The United States and South Korea maintain the North must halt its nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment, before the talks reopen.

The Korean Peninsula has seen more than a year of tension during which the North shelled a South Korean island and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship.

A limousine without license plates reportedly carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is seen in Ulan-Ude, Russia, on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/Anna Ogorodnik)
A limousine without license plates reportedly carrying North Korean leader Kim Jong-il ... more >

Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying that Mr. Kim expressed readiness to return to the talks without preconditions and “in the course of the talks, North Korea will be ready to resolve the question of imposing a moratorium on tests and production of nuclear missile weapons.”

Experts on North Korea were of mixed minds on the North Korean concession.

One at the University of Sydney said North Korea’s willingness to impose a moratorium on weapons of mass destruction represents “a very important step forward” that shows Mr. Kim’s sincerity about reopening the nuclear talks.

“The United States and its allies want a demonstration of sincerity from North Korea,” Leonid Petrov told the Associated Press, arguing that the “ball” is in their court now.

But he warned that North Korea may halt its conciliatory gestures if the United States fails to issue clear guarantees for Pyongyang’s survival in the future.

Another expert hailed the reclusive nation’s willingness to freeze its missile and nuclear tests but noted there was no clear mention of the North’s uranium enrichment program, which also can make nuclear weapons.

“The North already has weaponized plutonium, and enriched uranium is something that can be proliferated in an easier manner,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “I think North Korea leaves the matter to talks with the United States.”

On another subject, Mr. Medvedev said Russia and North Korea moved forward on a proposal to ship natural gas to South Korea through a pipeline across North Korea.

North Korea long was reluctant about the prospect of helping its industrial powerhouse archenemy increase its gas supply, but recently it has shown interest in the project. The South wants Russian energy but is wary of North Korean influence over its energy supply.

Mr. Medvedev, in televised comments, said the two countries will create a special commission to focus on “bilateral cooperation on gas transit.”

Story Continues →