Beijing (AFP) Aug 30, 2005
Two US Congressmen headed for North Korea Tuesday in a bid to narrow the gaps separating the two sides and urge the Stalinist state to quickly return to talks on its nuclear weapons drive.
Tom Lantos, a Democrat from California, and Iowa Republican Jim Leach departed from Beijing as Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon returned to the Chinese capital after talks in Pyongyang with senior leaders.
Their mission comes a day after North Korea sought a two-week delay in the resumption of six-party negotiations aimed at ending its nuclear weapons ambitions.
The fourth round of talks between the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China was scheduled to resume this week following a recess on August 7 after two weeks of unsuccessful negotiations.
But North Korea said Monday it would not return until the week of September 12, blaming the delay on military exercises between the United States and South Korea.
Lantos said he and Leach would try to convince North Korea it was in its interests to return to the bargaining table as early as possible.
"The last session went extremely well. We are headed to Pyongyang to clarify the remaining problems and to urge the North Korean government to return to talks in two weeks," Lantos told reporters at Beijing airport.
"We have a very positive outlook and approach and we are highly optimistic that the talks will succeed," he said.
"The major issues will be resolved and our job ... is to lubricate the process."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Lantos and Leach had not been dispatched on any government mission and were traveling "at their own discretion."
He said he was unaware of any briefings they had before leaving the United States. "These are trips that are taken by members of Congress. It's their decision to take these trips," McCormack said.
The legislators' departure coincided with North Korea's official media again lashing out at Washington and Seoul for conducting the drills, which Pyongyang fears could be a trial run for an invasion.
"If the US truly wants a negotiated peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, it should stop at once its military blackmail against the DPRK (North Korea)," the official Minju Joson newspaper said.
"Dialogue and war exercises can never go together."
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman was quoted by the official KCNA news agency on Monday as saying it was "unimaginable" for North Korea to sit down with the United States while such wargames were underway.
The 12-day annual exercises, which mobilised an unspecified number of South Korean soldiers and about 10,000 US troops for computer-simulated drills, are due to end on September 2.
Washington insists they are not linked to the six-party talks and pose no threat to the North.
"It strikes me that the delaying has not served well the North Korean people and of all parties that should be wanting to move (forward) should be the DPRK," said Leach.
Asked if North Korea was totally committed to returning to the talks process, Thailand's Kantathi added: "Not completely."
"My feeling is that if things can move forward and trust and confidence can be further built ... and a bit more work needs to be done, my hope and asssesment is that once that can be built in the next few days, then the six-party talks can resume," he told reporters.
Kantathi held talks with senior officials in Pyongyang, including a 90-minute meeting with Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun on Saturday.
The six-party talks aim to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits and security guarantees.
One sticking point is whether North Korea should be allowed to run nuclear programs for peaceful use, a request that Washington has rejected.
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Global Arms-Control System Has Mixed Success: US
Washington (AFP) Aug 30, 2005
International arms-control systems have produced only mixed results, with success toward disarming Libya shadowed by dangerous weapons programs in North Korea and Iran, the US State Department said Tuesday.
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