- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

North Korea clearly has declared that it is willing to “dismantle” rather than just “freeze” its nuclear-weapons programs, opening the way for an announcement yesterday that a second round of six-party talks on the issue will begin in Beijing on Feb. 25.

Diplomats familiar with the preparation of the crucial talks reported that both North Korea and the United States had claimed the other had yielded to demands.

Washington, despite its reluctance to specify how it would reciprocate concessions from Pyongyang, had conveyed the basic nature of economic and security guarantees it would be willing to offer, diplomats said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday that during a weekend visit by a delegation he sent to Pyongyang, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il “affirmed North Korea’s long-term commitment to the six-party process.”

“[Mr. Kim] also confirmed that North Korea’s offer to ‘freeze’ its nuclear activities in return for certain ‘reciprocal measures’ was only the first step in a process which would lead to the eventual dismantlement of its nuclear-weapons program,” Mr. Downer said.

Reminding reporters of Washington’s ultimate objective of a “verifiable” and “irreversible” end to Pyongyang’s programs, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday, “Freeze is not our goal.”

The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas have dickered over when to hold the next round of talks, which stalled after the first meeting of the six nations in Beijing in August.

North Korea first announced the Feb. 25 date through the official Korean Central News Agency.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell confirmed it, saying only: “We hope that these talks will be successful.”

U.S. officials said the date had been chosen by North Korea and China, after the Bush administration had told them that it is prepared for talks at any time.

U.S. and North Korean officials sought yesterday to convey the impression that the other’s stance had softened.

“There have been a lot of groundless speculations, but the United States has apparently come to pay attention to our position based on a pragmatic solution,” Kim Ryong-song, a North Korean Cabinet minister, said in Seoul, where he was attending economic talks with the South.

But Bush administration officials insisted that the U.S. position had not changed. They noted a Jan. 6 North Korean statement, which Pyongyang called a “bold concession.”

Then, North Korea offered “to refrain from test[ing] and production of nuclear weapons and stop even operating [our] nuclear-power industry.”

Richard Bush, director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, said the parties apparently have met each other’s “minimum requirements,” if only to avoid blame for delaying the talks even further.

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