- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

From combined dispatches

SEOUL — South Korea played down a North Korean offer to provide missile technology to Nigeria, saying yesterday it was a tactic to gain leverage ahead of a second round of talks on the North’s nuclear weapons programs.

A Nigerian government spokesman said Wednesday his country had a memorandum of understanding with North Korea to share missile technology, but said no hardware acquisitions had yet been made or decided.

Kim Kisu, second secretary of the North Korean Embassy in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, later said no deal had been closed.

South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said it remained unclear whether Nigeria had accepted the offer, but he did not think the issue would cause many problems.

“I see it as a tactic by North Korea to arouse anxiety from the United States ahead of the second round of six-nation talks,” Mr. Jeong said in a briefing.

North Korea is known to try to raise stakes ahead of crucial talks to gain leverage.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said her government “noted” Nigeria’s assertion that its trade with North Korea is unrelated to nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction.

“We attach importance to this question, and we oppose the proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems,” she said.

Efforts are under way to reopen a second round of talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis. The first round, involving the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas, ended without much progress in August.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said yesterday that diplomats have been working through the Lunar New Year holiday and “busily preparing” for the next round of talks, but no date has been set.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who arrived in Beijing yesterday, said he hoped to resume the six-way talks next month, but the timing depends on North Korea.

“I think February is a possibility, but of course the answer to this question resides in Pyongyang and not here,” Mr. Armitage told reporters.

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