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US warns North Korean politics could scuttle nuclear deal

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) March 25, 2008
The United States warned Tuesday that internal politics in North Korea could scuttle a deal in which the hardline communist state would have to end its nuclear weapons drive.

Christopher Hill, the chief US envoy to the six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear arms pursuit, said Pyongyang had informed Washington on a number of occasions that it wanted to reach the deal before President George W. Bush left office in January 2009.

"But the question is whether they are prepared to follow through," he said at a Washington forum of the Atlantic Council of the United States.

"North Korea is a country that has a very vertically oriented governing structure to be sure -- but this is on live TV, I think, so I have to be a little diplomatic about that -- but at the same time it is place for politics," Hill said, referring to the numerous broadcasting networks covering the event.

"And so I think it is fair to say that there are people in North Korea who really are not with the program here, really rather continue to be producing this plutonium for whatever reason," he said.

Hill did not elaborate, but there have been unconfirmed reports in the past about hardline military factions in Pyongyang not keen on reaching a nuclear deal even though the China-led six-party talks were endorsed by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

Hill's comment Tuesday came as North Korea refused to make a full declaration of its nuclear weapons program and alleged proliferation activities as part of an aid-for-disarmament deal agreed to by the six parties -- the United States, China, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.

The declaration was supposed to have been made by the end of 2007 under the deal, which would reward North Korea with energy aid as well as diplomatic and security guarantees by the United States.

North Korea, which has already closed its main nuclear reactor complex and in the process of disabling it, has blamed Washington for the deadlock, citing a US failure to remove it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

US accusations of North Korean complicity in a secret Syrian atomic drive, and allegations that Pyongyang has a furtive program to produce highly enriched uranium, have also complicated the process.

Noting that the clock was ticking away, Hill said "there is a lot of questions" about whether the three-phase nuclear deal with North Korea could be completed before Bush left office.

"And again I think this is something the North Koreans are going to have to answer," he said.

Hill, who is assistant secretary of state, said North Korea's failure to provide a full nuclear declaration had also prompted some US groups to push for a pullout from the six-party talks.

He said it did not serve US interests to withdraw from the nuclear negotiations, which began in 2003.

"Clearly from out vantage point, our interests are better served by staying in the process," he said. "We have to continue to work with the North Koreans."

He explained that Washington was adamant of getting a "complete and correct" nuclear declaration from North Korea "because we need clarity so that we can move forward.

"We are not looking to cause problems, we are not looking to create a situation where somehow we'll pull out of this," Hill said.

He said Washington was continuing unofficial talks with North Korea through the communist state's UN mission office in New York to break the impasse.

Hill was confident that the issue over the declaration could be resolved but expressed concern over the third and final phase of the deal in which North Korea had to abandon its nuclear weapons.

"It is my view that if the six-party talks fail, it would not the lack of declaration. "The problem I think will come in the next phase -- I think far more crucial phase."

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US, SKorea demand NKorea submit full nuclear declaration
Washington (AFP) March 26, 2008
The United States and South Korea called on North Korea Wednesday to submit a full declaration of its nuclear arms program as soon as possible, saying time and patience were running out.

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