Beijing (AFP) Nov 28, 2006
North Korea is ready for six-nation talks on its nuclear program after winning extra bargaining clout with its first atomic test, its top negotiator said Tuesday as he met US and Chinese diplomats. Kim Kye-Gwan headed straight into meetings here with Christopher Hill, his US counterpart at the six-nation forum, and chief Chinese negotiator Wu Dawei after flying into the Chinese capital early Tuesday.
Diplomats from Japan and South Korea were also in Beijing with the aim of setting a firm date for the resumption of the six-party talks on dismantling Pyongyang's weapons program, following a hiatus of over one year.
Kim told reporters on arrival that North Korea was ready for the six-party talks to restart at "any time", although he indicated that Pyongyang would use its recent entry into the global nuclear club as leverage.
"We have taken defensive measures against sanctions imposed on us, through the nuclear experiment," Kim told reporters, referring to his nation's first ever atomic weapons test on October 9.
"As we have attained that position, we can now have discussions on an equal level.
"We will hold talks at any time, from the grand standpoint (of being a nuclear nation)."
The talks' process was launched in 2003 to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions, but broke down in November last year when Pyongyang walked out in protest at US financial sanctions against it.
Kim's comments mirror North Korea's negotiating position, which is that it wants to be treated as a nuclear-armed power -- something the United States, Japan and South Korea have said they will not accept.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reiterated that position on Tuesday.
"Japan simply cannot allow North Korea to possess nuclear weapons," Abe was quoted as saying in Tokyo by Japan's Kyodo news agency, adding that Pyongyang must take "concrete steps" toward scrapping its weapons.
Pyongyang agreed in principle on October 31 to rejoin the six-party talks following a day of secret meetings in Beijing between Kim, Hill and Wu.
China, which has remained North Korea's closest ally despite its anger over Pyongyang's nuclear program, has hosted the full six-party talks in the past and has played the role of mediator in trying to get them restarted.
Hill said on his arrival Monday that he expected progress to be made this week toward restarting full talks. He has said previously he hoped to see them restart by mid-December.
"Again, the issue for us is to make sure we are extremely well planned for six-party talks, which we expect to get going again very soon," he said.
The Chinese foreign ministry and the US embassy confirmed that Hill and Kim had met on Tuesday although neither side could say what progress, if any, had come out of the meetings, as the talks were continuing into the afternoon.
"As far as a date for the next round of six-party talks, right now the sides are having consultations," said Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.
Hill met with Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae on Monday. On Tuesday he held separate morning meetings with South Korea's representative Chun Yung-Woo and later met with Wu, a US embassy spokesperson said.
Wu also had separate bilateral meetings with Sasae and Chun on Monday night, according to Jiang.
The resumption of the six-party talks took on a new urgency after North Korea's test, which triggered international condemnation and United Nations sanctions.
However, the parties have since been unable to announce a start date. Despite its decision to return to the negotiating table, a top North Korean diplomat said last week that Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear weapons.
US President George W. Bush discussed the issue late Monday in a phone call with Chinese President Hu Jintao, a White House spokesman said.
On a trip to the Baltics, he asked Hu for "continued Chinese leadership on various international issues such as the situation in North Korea," the White House spokesman said.
Russia is the sixth nation involved in the talks, but there was no sign of Russian involvement in this week's diplomatic flurry.
earlier related report
It was their first meeting since October 31 when North Korea agreed to rejoin the negotiations after being hit with UN sanctions for having carried out its first test explosion of a nuclear bomb.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the two sides would meet again on Wednesday, both in a three-party format with their Chinese hosts and then bilaterally.
"That's the way it worked today -- there was a meeting with the Chinese, North Koreans and us and then a meeting with the North Koreans. I think the idea is that we replicate that tomorrow," he said.
McCormack described the talks as preparation for a formal resumption of the six-party meetings involving China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, North Korea and the United States.
The aim is to "start to provide information on how we might be able to define what is an effective round of the six-party talks that produces concrete results," he said.
Washington has insisted it will not resume the multilateral negotiations without assurances they will not be used as a stalling tactic while North Korea pursues its nuclear arms ambitions.
earlier related report
"The North's side has expressed strong support for the South's bid to host the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, Gangwon Province, and agreed to extend full cooperation," Kim Jin-sun, governor of the province, told journalists after retuning from a four-day visit to Pyongyang.
The North's agreement was made on the basis of the "mutual recognition" that the international sports event would make "a positive contribution to peace and stability" on the Korean peninsula, Kim said in a press conference in Seoul.
Under the three-point agreement, the North also promised to seek fielding a unified team and holding joint training for the 2014 Winter Olympics to help Pyeongchang win the games bid, he said.
The agreement was signed between Kim and Mun Jae Dok, president of the Olympic Committee of North Korea during his visit to Pyongyang on Nov. 22-25.
The visit came at the invitation of the North's state-run Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation which handles cross-border programs. Kim concurrently serves as the executive president of the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, about 110 miles east of Seoul.
Pyeongchang is one of three cities -- along with Sochi, Russia, and Salzburg, Austria -- vying for the 2014 Olympic Games. The mountainous city lost a head-to-head battle with Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics by a margin of three votes in 2003.
"The North's support will help us win the bid this time," Kim said, noting that the Olympics in the South Korean city would symbolize peace building efforts on the peninsula, which is still technically in a state of war as their 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty.
Kim said the two Koreas share the belief that holding the Olympics in Gangwon province, whose territory is bisected by the demilitarized zone dividing the peninsula, would contribute to peace in the region.
"This will make a great contribution not only to peace on the Korean peninsula but peace around the world," he said.
Upbeat about the North's support for the Olympic bid, Kim said his province would press ahead with exchange programs with the North despite its nuclear threats.
"There have been some concerns that the nuclear test, which raised tensions (on the peninsula) might have cast a cloud over our bid," he said. The North's support for the South's Olympic bid, however, should "dispel the concerns of the international community," Kim said.
"With this agreement, North Korea apparently attempted to deliver a message to the world that it has no hostile intention despite its nuclear test," the governor said.
In another sign of sporting reconciliation, Pyongyang has proposed that the two Koreas stage a joint march at the opening and closing ceremonies for the Doha Asian Games next month.
Sports exchanges were highlighted in 2000 when athletes from the two Koreas marched together at Sydney Olympic Games, wearing the same uniform and under the same name. The two Koreas also marched together at the 2002 Asian Games and the World University Games in 2003, both held in South Korean cities.
North Korea has also proposed inter-Korean sports talks on forming a unified team for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The sports talks, likely to be held early next month, would be the first government-level dialogue between the two Koreas since the North's nuclear test on Oct. 9.
The series of the North's moves come amid strained inter-Korean exchanges. In response to the North's nuclear test, the South has frozen food and fertilizer aid which has worsened the North's food shortages.
North Korea is facing a food shortage of close to 750,000 tons this year as a result of a poor harvest and the dwindling of assistance from its traditional donors, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
Pyongyang's gestures for sports exchanges seem aimed at reviving the much-needed aid from the South as well as driving a wedge in South Korean-U.S. cooperation to curb the North's nuclear programs, analysts say.
The North has a long history of seeking closer ties with the South when it faces greater pressure from the United States, they say.
Source: Agence France-Presse
Source: United Press International
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