- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

12:49 p.m.

BEIJING — North Korea defiantly declared itself a nuclear power today at the start of the first full international arms talks since its atomic test and threatened to increase its arsenal if its demands were not met.

Reiterating those demands in its opening speech, the North said the United Nations must lift the sanctions imposed on the communist nation for its Oct. 9 nuclear test. It also said the United States must remove the financial restrictions that led the North to break off the six-nation negotiations 13 months ago.

The North also said it wants a reactor built for it and help covering its energy needs in the meantime, according to a summary of the speech released by one of the delegations involved. Five nations are trying to persuade the North to abandon nuclear weapons — the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

The North said that now that it is a nuclear power, it should be treated on equal footing with the United States. It warned that if its demands were not met, it would increase its arsenal, according to the summary.

The United States offered in its opening comments to normalize relations with Pyongyang, but only after it halted its atomic program.

“The supply of our patience may have exceeded the international demand for that patience, and we should be a little less patient and pick up the pace and work faster,” Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy, told reporters.

China, the North’s last major ally, also pushed for results.

Opening the talks at a Chinese state guesthouse in Beijing, head Chinese delegate Wu Dawei urged the envoys to work for the implementation of a September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and aid.

“We have finished the stage of commitment for commitment and now should follow the principle of action for action,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Jiang Yu said, echoing phrasing from the earlier agreement.

“The position of the North Korean delegation is wide apart from the rest of us, and we cannot accept it,” Japanese negotiator Kenichiro Sasae told reporters.

A South Korean official who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the talks said the North was entering the negotiations with a maximum of conditions for success.

North Korea agreed to return to the six-nation negotiations just weeks after its nuclear test, saying it wanted to discuss U.S. financial restrictions against a Macau bank where the regime held accounts.

That issue will be addressed in separate U.S.-North Korean meetings expected to start tomorrow.



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