- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

The State Department yesterday welcomed an offer by North Korea to freeze its nuclear-weapons and -energy programs, but cautioned that any freeze must be verifiable and irreversible to meet U.S. stipulations.

Calling its offer a “bold concession,” North Korea promised earlier yesterday “to refrain from test[ing] and production of nuclear weapons and stop even operating [our] nuclear-power industry.”

The offer, seen as an effort to kick-start stalled six-nation negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear program, was described as “first-phase measures of [a] package solution.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said it was “a positive statement.”

“They in effect said they won’t test, and they implied that they would give up all aspects of their nuclear program, not just their weapons program. And this is an interesting step on their part, a positive step,” Mr. Powell said at the State Department.

“We hope that it will allow us to move more rapidly toward six-party framework talks. But what we’re looking at is what should be the outcome of those talks, so that it is not just a discussion, but we see real progress at the end of those talks.”

Mr. Powell emphasized the administration’s hope that the statement signaled a willingness by Pyongyang to return to talks with the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear program.

The first round of talks was held in Beijing in August. The second round has been postponed owing to disputes over the agenda, but could take place in the next few weeks. North Korea is demanding economic aid and security guarantees, which the United States has refused to offer.

“Because we are not sitting at a table does not mean we have not been talking to each other,” Mr. Powell said. “And a lot of papers have gone back and forth and we are in touch with our four partners in this effort, and some of our partners are directly in touch with North Korea.”

In South Korea, Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said todaythat Seoul also welcomed the North’s latest offer, saying it could provide a spur to the stalled talks on the crisis on the peninsula.

“This should be helpful in creating the atmosphere for a second round of talks” that Chinese diplomats are trying to organize, Mr. Yoon told a news conference.

Two unofficial U.S. delegations arrived in Pyongyang, meanwhile, to discuss the nuclear program and humanitarian aid.

One delegation led by Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff members Keith Luse and Frank Jannuzi plans to discuss food aid for the impoverished communist nation. The two had visited North Korea in August to investigate the nuclear issue.

A second delegation of U.S. academics, scientists and former government officials hopes to discuss nuclear issues and may be permitted to inspect nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, where Pyongyang says it has been reprocessing spent fuel rods.

This group includes John W. Lewis, a professor of international relations at Stanford University; Siegfried Heckler, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory; and Jack Pritchard, a former staff member of the National Security Council.

The group has no authority to negotiate on behalf of the Bush administration, and some fear it could complicate the official diplomatic effort. On the other hand, the group could not have traveled without U.S. permission.

“The United States has disavowed the delegation, but they have tacit permission to go,” said Jon Wolfsthal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Asked how the nuclear freeze promised yesterday might be verified, Mr. Wolfsthal said North Korea “would have to disclose where its facilities are located and they’d have to be inspected to see how far they have progressed.”

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