Beijing (AFP) Jan 23, 2007
A top North Korean envoy said Tuesday that a welcome change in attitude by the United States in nuclear negotiations could lead to initial steps in dismantling Pyongyang's weapons programme. "There was a positive change in the American side's attitude," Japan's Jiji press quoted Pyongyang's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-Gwan, as saying in Beijing.
Kim was referring to rare one-on-one talks held last week in Berlin with his US counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, which focused on the nuclear dispute.
"I am satisfied (with the talks)," he said.
When asked if the next round of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programme would lead to implementation of some initial steps agreed to in the forum in September 2005, Kim responded affirmatively.
"We are working hard at the moment to create that possibility," he said.
The Stalinist regime stunned the world last October when it tested a nuclear device for the first time, triggering global condemnation and UN sanctions but also adding urgency to efforts to resume stalled disarmament talks.
North Korea had agreed in the September 2005 pact to dismantle its nuclear programme in return for diplomatic recognition and food and energy aid, but it was never implemented because Pyongyang later walked out in protest at US financial sanctions.
The six-nation talks, which began in 2003, involve hosts China, the United States, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.
Kim met with South Korea's envoy to the talks, Chun Yung-Woo, in Beijing on Tuesday.
Hill, who departed Beijing on Monday after briefing his Chinese counterparts on the Berlin meeting, said he expected China to announce the next round of six-party talks by the end of this week.
On Tuesday, China's foreign ministry spokesman said no date for resumption of the talks had been decided, but urged all sides to maintain constructive efforts.
"All sides have agreed to resume the six-party talks as soon as possible and China is actively making preparations for the resumption," Liu said.
"All sides should adopt a constructive attitude, an attitude that is beneficial for pushing forward the Korean Peninsula nuclear problem through peaceful dialogue."
earlier related report
Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest-circulation paper, quoted sources as saying the North offered to suspend operations at its Yongbyon reactor and allow on-site monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency as the first steps towards abandoning its nuclear programme.
North Korea's senior nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan made the offer in exchange for US energy and economic aid and assurances that Washington would work to unfreeze 24 million dollars of the North's assets in a Macau bank, the paper said.
Kim met his US counterpart Christopher Hill three times in Berlin last week for talks which both sides described as positive. Hill, who flew to South Korea, Japan and China after his Berlin discussions, said in Beijing on Monday that six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programme should resume as soon as possible.
The talks, which group the two Koreas with China, Japan, Russia and the United States, have been going on since 2003 but assumed added urgency after the North staged its first nuclear weapons test last October.
The last round of negotiations in December ended with little apparent progress, with Pyongyang demanding that the US financial curbs be lifted before any further discussions.
Hill said the US Treasury Department would resume separate bilateral talks with North Korea soon on Macau's Banco Delta Asia.
Chosun Ilbo quoted other sources as saying the North demanded that Washington consider transforming the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War into a peace treaty as soon as it starts implementing the initial measures, and the US gave a positive response.
The North's official media said last week the Berlin talks resulted in an unspecified agreement. Hill denied any deal had been reached but described the meetings as "very useful."
earlier related report
The state Xinhua news agency said Kim Kye-Gwan had arrived in the Chinese capital to "discuss the talks with the Chinese side."
South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator Chun Yung Woo also arrived in Beijing Monday and said he would meet with his Chinese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, on Tuesday morning, according to Xinhua.
Chun said he planned to speak with Wu about the resumption of the nuclear talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programmes, Xinhua reported.
Chun said he may also meet Kim in Beijing before his scheduled departure on Tuesday.
US envoy Christopher Hill said here Monday after holding discussions with Wu that the negotiations on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programme should resume quickly.
"I would hope the Chinese government will be able to announce soon the start-up of the six-party talks," Hill told journalists.
Hill made the comments before flying back to the United States, wrapping up a whirlwind trip to brief South Korea, Japan and China on his rare one-on-one talks with Kim in Berlin last week.
Kim was in Moscow on Sunday to brief Russia's envoy to the talks, Alexander Losyukov, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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