- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

The United States has taken note of a sweeping new proposal from North Korea to end East Asia’s nuclear standoff, but remains focused on a second round of multilateral talks in Beijing as the best way to address the issue, the State Department said yesterday.

In a rare interview, two senior North Korean diplomats told The Washington Times in Geneva Thursday that Pyongyang was prepared to give up its nuclear deterrent, stop testing and exporting missiles and allow international inspectors back into the country in exchange for economic reparations and a written security pledge from Washington.

The North Korean envoys, Kim Yong-ho and Kim Song-sol, also said the United States must agree not to hinder the economic development of the North, particularly its ties with South Korea and Japan.

“We have seen the report and are examining efforts already under way for another round of six-party talks,” a senior State Department official said yesterday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

A first round of the talks, involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, broke up in Beijing in August with little tangible progress. Chinese officials have been pushing for a second round, which could come as early as mid-December.

“We hope to discuss whether North Korea is prepared to completely, verifiably and irreversibly end its nuclear program and related issues” in any new round of talks, the U.S. official said.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs James Kelly, the lead U.S. diplomat at the August talks, travels to Japan, China and South Korea beginning tomorrow to discuss the next diplomatic steps.

State Department officials said that Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bangguo planned to travel to North Korea to confirm the dates.

“It’s close to a done deal that there will be talks, but … the dotted line hasn’t been signed,” a second State Department official said.

The Bush administration says that Pyongyang admitted violating a 1994 deal with the Clinton administration to freeze its clandestine nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid and the construction of two civilian nuclear power plants.

The North has insisted on new aid and a formal non-aggression pact with the United States as the price for ending its nuclear program.

North Korea abruptly eased its traditionally bellicose rhetoric earlier this month, showing new openness to renewed negotiations.

The program outlined by the two North Korean diplomats in Geneva was the most extensive to date.

The envoys said Pyongyang would insist on simultaneous actions by all parties as part of the bargain. The North would also seek compensation for the electric power lost with the halt of construction at the two nuclear plants.

U.S. officials said the timing of any agreement was less important than achieving a definitive end to the North’s nuclear programs, which have sent shock waves across the region.

Former President Clinton told an audience in Seoul during a visit to South Korea yesterday that the Bush administration should agree to the non-aggression pact if it cleared the way for a deal with North Korea.

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