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Direct US, North Korea Talks Give New Glimmer Of Hope

file photo of Christopher Hill.
by P. Parameswaran
Washington (AFP) Dec 03, 2006
One month after North Korea agreed to return to multilateral nuclear talks following its defiant atomic weapons test, the six-nation dialogue remains stalled. But few are complaining. This is because the United States and North Korea, the key parties of the four-year nuclear standoff, are engaged in face-to-face talks on crunch issues that some believe are more productive that the six-party process including China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

Top US negotiator Christopher Hill met his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan in Beijing last week, their second meeting in a month, to explore how North Korea should consider disbanding its atomic weapons network in return for security, diplomatic and energy guarantees.

Experts noted that their 15 hours of marathon talks brokered by China over two days were wide-ranging and tackled critical issues.

"One of the things to note is that there had been extensive talks this time between the North Koreans and the United States," said Daniel Pinkston of the California-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

"Proposals were exchanged and discussions were held and that means diplomacy is underway, and so whether or not the six-party meeting is held may be irrelevant," he said.

The six-party talks have been stalled since November 2005 and few expect them to resume before the end of the year.

The administration of President George W. Bush has been under pressure to hold direct talks with North Korea since the hardline communist state defied the international community and tested a nuclear bomb two months ago.

Washington has always emphasized that the rare direct talks between US and North Korean negotiators in Beijing are part of the six-party process hosted by China and not considered official bilateral discussions.

At the Beijing talks last week, North Korea reportedly told the United States to lift the financial restrictions on a Macau-based bank which Washington alleges was used by Pyongyang to commit financial crimes.

The United States, for its part, demanded the communist state report all of its nuclear facilities and programs, and accept inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun daily in Japan.

Citing Japanese and US government sources, it said Hill also demanded that the North close its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor in Yongbyon and seal off underground nuclear facilities from where it conducted the atomic test.

Kim has taken the conditions, reportedly agreed upon by the other five parties, back to Pyongyang for consultations with the North Korean leadership.

Hill would only say that he shared some "ideas" with the North Koreans.

"They heard them for the first time from us, and so they are going to take them back to Pyongyang and study them. And we hope to hear from them soon," he said.

Experts say it is hard to tell at this stage whether North Korea, with its de facto nuclear power status following its October 9 test explosion, would just abandon its atomic weapons arsenal.

"It's important to make the North Koreans choose between the survival of their regime and having nuclear weapons," said Robert Einhorn, who directed nonproliferation matters at the State Department from 1999 to 2001.

"If they believe that keeping nuclear weapons will over the long term jeapordise the survival of their regime then perhaps they would have incentives for giving up those weapons," said Einhorn, who now works at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. North Korea agreed in principle during the six-party talks in September 2005 to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for concessions but boycotted the talks two months later after US sanctions led to a freeze in North Korean accounts in Macao-based Banco Delta Asia.

Pyongyang only agreed about a month ago to return to the six-party talks after testing its nuclear bomb and drawing UN Security Council sanctions.

But Washington said it would not resume the six-party talks until a concrete outcome is ready to be put on the table, fearing North Korea would use the meeting as a stalling tactic to expand its nuclear arsenal.

"The North Koreans have said they'll come back to the talks. That's a done deal. But we don't want to just have people come back to the talks," said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"It really is what are the expectations of this next round and that may take some time. And it may take further discussions," she said.

earlier related report
IAEA chief visits China to discuss North Korean issue
Beijing (AFP) Dec 4 - UN atomic watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei began a four-day visit to China Monday with talks with officials on North Korea's nuclear ambitions, aides said. North Korea came under fresh international sanctions after testing an atom bomb on October 9, and two days of meetings last week involving US and North Korean envoys failed to set a date for the next round of stalled six-nation talks on halting the nuclear program.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is also to deliver a lecture Tuesday at Beijing's Qinghua university.

He arrived from Tokyo, where he advised a "softly-softly" approach to North Korea and Iran, which also faces threats of punitive measures for refusing to freeze nuclear enrichment.

"We should not talk about changing the government in Iran. We should not talk about use of military force in Iran, because the more you talk about that the more the Iranians or the (North) Koreans will feel threatened and will continue to accelerate their nuclear weapon program," ElBaradei warned.

"I've always said that sanctions alone will never resolve a conflict. In many cases sanctions harden the resolve of a country," he added.

"You have, in addition to sanctions, to provide incentives. You have to work with a stick and a carrot."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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World Powers To Meet In Paris On Iran Nuclear Sanctions
Paris (AFP) Dec 04, 2006
Six world powers are to meet Tuesday in Paris in their latest bid to secure agreement on a package of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend sensitive nuclear activities. High-ranking diplomats from the five veto-wielding UN Security Council members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany will attend the talks Tuesday evening at the French foreign ministry.

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