Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday rejected a one-for-one approach in any deal with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs in exchange for individual incentives, saying the United States favors a Chinese plan with “sets of actions” both sides must take over at least several months.

The plan would not “marry up every little step,” because “the North Koreans are masters” of blaming others for what they fail to do, Miss Rice said. The North Koreans would have to “demonstrate early on” that they are serious about dismantling their nuclear program, she added.

“We don’t want to get back into a situation where every step has to be gauged against some other step,” she told several newspaper reporters at a year-end roundtable on the second day of nuclear negotiations with the North in Beijing.

“There are going to be, I would hope, broader steps forward … that would move this along, because ultimately what the world is going to see is if this is going to lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the secretary said.

She declined to specify how Pyongyang should demonstrate that it has decided to scrap its nuclear capabilities, although she referred to previous ideas related to suspending certain nuclear activities and letting in international inspectors.

“We all know what movement on denuclearization looks like,” she said. “We all know that there are some steps that are not going to be taken until toward the end because we know how one dismantles a nuclear program.”

In an often-cited Sept. 19, 2005, statement issued at the last round of six-party talks on the North’s programs, Pyongyang agreed in principle to end its nuclear pursuits in exchange for a series of incentives, including energy, economic aid, security guarantees and normalized relations with the United States.

But major disagreements remained on the timing and sequencing of the steps on both sides.

Miss Rice yesterday dismissed “tight sequencing” as “problematic” and endorsed a “work plan” she said was first proposed by China, host of the negotiations, “with obligations for both sides over some period of time.”

“The notion of sets of actions … is probably about right,” she said. “This is not a science, it’s an art.”

But she quickly added: “Oh goodness, I should have never said that.”

In Beijing, the heads of the U.S. and North Korean delegations, Christopher Hill and Kim Kye-gwan, met one on one for the first time since the talks began on Monday. At the same time, Treasury officials met with another North Korean delegation to discuss financial sanctions imposed last year.

“We don’t have really any breakthroughs to report,” said Mr. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

On Monday, Mr. Kim was reported as saying that U.N. sanctions limiting imports and exports to the North imposed after the Oct. 9 nuclear test and U.S. financial penalties put in place last year should be lifted.

The restrictions against a Macao bank where the North Korean regime holds accounts were caused by what Washington described as money laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. dollars. Pyongyang decided to return to the talks after the United States agreed to discuss that issue along with the nuclear matter.

Mr. Kim also demanded a civilian nuclear reactor to meet the impoverished country’s energy needs, as well as other incentives to buy the scrapping of its nuclear programs, according to notes taken by diplomats in the room.

The five nations trying to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons are the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

China’s chief negotiator, Wu Dawei, said in a statement released in Beijing that putting last year’s agreement “into practice in stages is the reasonable and realistic choice.”

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