- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

11:58 a.m.

BEIJING — North Korea agreed in principle today to take initial steps toward dismantling its nuclear programs at the start of international talks seeking the first concrete progress on disarming Pyongyang.

The main U.S. negotiator said that talks resumed on a positive note and that sides were hoping to achieve an agreement on the first steps for the North’s disarmament.

“We had a good first day today,” Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters. “We hope we can achieve some kind of joint statement here.”

Unlike the last round of six-nation talks in December, Mr. Hill said the countries “were able to make progress on discussing denuclearization.”

Negotiators are working to lay out the implementation of a September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to disarm in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

Mr. Hill said a draft agreement expected from the Chinese hosts by tomorrow morning would detail a “set of actions taken in a finite amount of time.” He declined to give specifics but said the moves would take place in a matter of “single-digit weeks.”

Pyongyang’s envoy had said before the talks started that he was ready to discuss initial steps toward nuclear disarmament.

“We are prepared to discuss first-stage measures,” Kim Kye-gwan said on arriving in Beijing for the meeting at a Chinese state guesthouse.

American specialists who visited Mr. Kim in Pyongyang last week said North Korea would propose a freeze of its main nuclear reactor and a resumption of international inspections in exchange for energy aid and a normalization of relations with Washington.

Mr. Kim said today that any moves by North Korea would depend on the U.S. attitude.

“We are going to make a judgment based on whether the United States will give up its hostile policy and come out toward peaceful coexistence,” he said, adding that Washington was “well aware” of what it had to do.

North Korea has twice boycotted the nuclear talks for more than a year, claiming various U.S. policies show the Bush administration intends to topple its government.

“I’m not either optimistic or pessimistic because there are still many points of confrontation to resolve,” Mr. Kim said.

Still, his comments marked a change in North Korea’s position from the last round of talks in December, when Mr. Kim refused to even discuss disarmament and demanded the lifting of U.S. financial restrictions against a Macau bank where North Korea held accounts.

The lack of any on-the-ground results in disarming North Korea has raised the issue of the credibility of the talks, which involve China, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and the two Koreas.

Since 2003, they have produced only a single joint statement in September 2005 on principles for North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and pledges that Washington won’t seek the regime’s ouster.

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