Monday, June 28, 2004

SEOUL — North Korea yesterday dismissed as unrealistic a U.S. proposal to provide energy aid and security guarantees only if it completely dismantles its nuclear programs.

But it praised the “positive progress” made in last week’s six-nation nuclear talks in Beijing. The four-day session, attended by delegates from North and South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, ended Saturday with no major breakthroughs.

Envoys promised to discuss steps toward dismantling the North’s nuclear programs and to meet again by September.

Diplomats said they agreed to define how the North could move toward disarmament, how such moves could be monitored and what kind of aid the North could expect in return.

Yesterday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry applauded what it called Washington’s willingness to consider more seriously Pyongyang’s demand that it be rewarded for freezing its nuclear programs.

“Some common elements helpful to making progress in the talks were found there,” an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. “This was positive progress made at the talks.”

North Korea said it had conducted “exhaustive negotiations” with the U.S. delegation on the sidelines of the talks. It praised the United States for softening its demand for an unconditional end to Pyongyang’s nuclear programs by not calling for a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement, or CVID.

“It was fortunate that the U.S. did not use the expression of CVID but accepted the principle of ‘words for words’ and ‘action for action’ as proposed by [North Korea],” the statement said.

One sticking point, however, appeared to be how far North Korea must go to qualify for energy aid and other benefits.

The United States proposed a three-month preparation period during which the North would freeze work on its nuclear program, submit a list of all nuclear activities and remove key weapons ingredients.

“A particular mention should be made of the fact that in its proposal the U.S. raised the issue of ‘period of three months’ preparations’ for dismantling the nuclear program, but it could not be supported by anyone as it totally lacked scientific and realistic nature,” the Foreign Ministry statement said.

The nuclear dispute flared in October 2002, when Washington said that North Korean officials admitted their country had a secret weapons program, violating a 1994 agreement.

The United States and its allies retaliated by cutting off the 500,000 tons of oil they had been giving the energy-starved North each year, among other measures.

At the latest talks, North Korea offered to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy, the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions and removal from Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, saying the freeze would be a step toward eventual dismantlement.

The U.S. proposal required the North to go further, disclosing all its nuclear activities, helping to dismantle facilities and allowing outside monitors. Under the plan, some benefits would be withheld to ensure the North cooperates.

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