- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 1, 2006

North Korea agreed yesterday to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear programs after the United States said it will discuss financial sanctions against Pyongyang on the sidelines of the multilateral talks.

The Bush administration insisted, however, that it and other countries would continue working to implement trade restrictions imposed on the North by a U.N. Security Council resolution last month.

“I’m very pleased with the progress being made in the Far East,” President Bush said after the North Koreans told U.S. and Chinese diplomats in Beijing they would end their yearlong boycott of the negotiations. No date was set for the resumption of talks.

The limited breakthrough in efforts to resume the talks was announced by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which said North Korea had agreed in talks with the United States and China to soon resume the long-stalled six-party talks on its nuclear program. The ministry posted a statement to that effect on its Web site yesterday.

“We’ll be sending teams to the region to work with our partners to make sure that the current United Nations Security Council resolution is enforced, but also to make sure the talks are effective, that we achieve the results we want,” Mr. Bush said.

That goal, he said, is to see the North abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons “in a verifiable fashion.”

The teams the president referred to will be led by State Department officials and will maintain political contacts with countries in Northeast Asia, said department spokesman Sean McCormack. He said the teams would not get involved in the practical daily implementation of Resolution 1718.

The U.N. measure was adopted unanimously by the 15-member council in response to North Korea’s Oct. 9 nuclear test. It bans exports from and imports to the North of illicit materials and equipment that could be used to further its missile and weapons of mass destruction programs.

Mr. McCormack said the Chinese informed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice late last week that the North Koreans had requested a three-way meeting with the United States.

Miss Rice asked Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and chief negotiator on North Korea, to go to Beijing and meet with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Gye-gwan. Mr. Hill was in Sydney at the time, having stayed in the region after Miss Rice’s visit two weeks ago.

“We took a step today toward getting this process back on track. This process has suffered a lot in recent weeks by the actions” of North Korea, Mr. Hill told reporters in Beijing.

Mr. Hill said he first met with the Chinese and North Korean delegations together, and then bilaterally with Mr. Kim.

“I made it very clear that the United States does not accept [North Korea] as a nuclear power, and neither does China,” he said.

Mr. Hill agreed to discuss financial penalties imposed on the North last year because of counterfeiting and other illegal activities, but he said Mr. Kim did not ask that those sanctions be lifted before the six-party talks can resume.

The talks also include Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Mr. McCormack said the United States hopes the talks will resume before year’s end. The venue, as in the past, will most likely be Beijing, he said.

He also said Washington wants the talks to pick up where they left off at the last meeting in September 2005 — with a joint statement committing all six countries to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“North Korea faced a qualitatively different geopolitical environment” after Resolution 1718, which was supported by its benefactor China, Mr. McCormack said. “Implementation of 1718 is going to continue.”

Recent reports indicate China has taken a tougher stance toward the North than usual. Chinese trade statistics released Monday showed that China, the reclusive country’s main energy supplier, did not sell any crude oil to North Korea in September.

Yesterday’s announcement came a week before the U.S. midterm election, and both political parties offered speedy interpretations of the events. Republicans said Pyongyang’s decision was a vindication for the Bush administration’s rejection of bilateral negotiations. Democrats played down its significance, saying it was a small step forward.

“The announcement that North Korea will return to the six-party talks reinforces how effective the president’s response to that crisis has been so far,” said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.

“It may ultimately be a positive step forward, but it is clearly not sufficient to produce the goal we all want to achieve — a halt to North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

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