- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

SEOUL — Six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions resumed in Beijing yesterday with Washington and Pyongyang publicly restating opposing positions that had forced a five-week recess.

Separately, South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young arrived in North Korea yesterday for four days of Cabinet-level discussions.

Mr. Chung told reporters in Seoul that he was carrying a confidential message for the North’s leadership from Washington.

The nuclear talks — which were suspended Aug. 7 after 13 days of negotiations ended in stalemate — resumed on a sour note after the North’s chief negotiator, Kim Gye-gwan, told Xinhua News Agency that Pyongyang “has a right to peaceful nuclear activity.”

Washington’s chief negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, branded Mr. Kim’s position “wrong” in comments to reporters in Beijing.

Pyongyang’s demand to have a peaceful nuclear energy program has become a major sticking point.

“What the North needs to do is get out of the nuclear business,” Mr. Hill said before arriving in Beijing.

North Korea has reiterated that it will not dismantle its atomic program “without getting any proposal compensating for the loss of nuclear energy.”

The South has offered to meet the North’s power needs from its own grid, but North Korea has not officially responded to the offer.

The U.S. position is complicated by Chinese and South Korean support for civil atomic energy use by North Korea on the condition that it abandon nuclear weapons.

China and South Korea are North Korea’s No. 1 and No. 2 trade partners, respectively. They would be expected to resist U.S. efforts to impose sanctions should the talks collapse.

Another point of friction is Pyongyang’s human rights abuses, with North Korea criticizing the recent appointment of a U.S. special envoy on the issue.

North Korea also has demanded the removal of U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea — weapons Washington insists do not exist — and repeatedly has demanded an end to what it calls hostile American policy.

There is no deadline to complete the current round of talks. The best that delegates can hope for from the negotiations is a joint agreement on principles for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The meeting yesterday focused on procedural issues.

Analysts saw few grounds for optimism.

“I think we are closer to breakdown than breakthrough,” said Peter Beck, the Seoul-based northeast Asia project director of the International Crisis Group.

“The North has been harsh in its public statements, and the U.S. is not going to bend on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”

The talks involve the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.

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