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World Watches North Korea Amid Reports Of Possible Compromise

Is Kim backing down?
by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Oct 23, 2006
All eyes were on North Korea on Monday amid reports that the isolated communist state could be ready to compromise in its standoff with the international community over its nuclear weapons program. The talk of progress came as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed home Sunday after a four-nation tour of Asia and Russia aimed at stepping up the pressure on Pyongyang following its shock October 9 nuclear test.

Rice, who arrived home in Washington from Moscow, was to brief the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, on Monday about her efforts to rally international support for UN sanctions imposed on North Korea.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously to slap Pyongyang with a range of financial, trade and military restrictions after its atom bomb test, and urged the North to return to six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the North's leader Kim Jong-Il had promised not to stage a second nuclear test unless his nation was "harassed" by the United States.

The report quoted diplomatic sources in Seoul as saying Kim gave the assurance during a meeting in Pyongyang last week with a high-level Chinese delegation led by State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan.

"Kim said during a meeting with Tang that North Korea would not conduct an additional nuclear test unless the US harasses the North," Yonhap quoted one source as saying.

"Kim also promised North Korea would return to the six-way talks in the near future as long as the US promises to lift financial sanctions after the talks reopen."

South Korean officials said they had no information on the report. Yonhap on Friday quoted a diplomatic source in Beijing as saying Kim had told his Chinese visitors there would be no additional test.

Tang was the first foreign official to meet Kim since North Korea carried out its first atomic test, sparking worldwide condemnation and the UN sanctions.

A South Korean newspaper said Kim had expressed regret to the envoy from China, the North's most crucial source of aid and trade, but Rice cast doubt on that report Saturday in Moscow.

"I don't know whether or not Kim Jong-Il said any such thing," Rice said.

"But the Chinese, in a fairly thorough briefing about the talks, said nothing about such an apology for having launched a test," she added.

After his return to Beijing, Tang on Friday said his trip had not been a waste of time but gave no details.

"Fortunately my visit this time has not been in vain," he told Rice during her visit to Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing also reported some positive elements from the meeting, saying the prospect of quickly resuming the stalled six-party talks had been discussed.

North Korea agreed at the talks in September 2005 to scrap its nuclear programs in exchange for energy aid, other economic inducements and security guarantees.

But it boycotted the forum two months later in protest at US attempts to cut its access to overseas banks.

During her whirlwind tour last week, Rice met with key officials in the four other countries involved in the disarmament talks -- China, Japan, Russia and South Korea -- to try to ensure strict enforcement of the sanctions.

A key sticking point has been inspections of North Korean cargo shipments called for under the UN resolution. China and South Korea have resisted such a move for fear of aggravating tensions.

The United States says it wants to prevent the North from transferring weapons of mass destruction and nuclear know-how to hostile groups and governments.

In an interview aired Sunday by ABC News, US President George W. Bush warned that North Korea would be "held to account" if Pyongyang sold nuclear material to Iran or Al-Qaeda.

Asked if the United States would retaliate if such a transfer occurred, Bush said: "You know, I'd just say it's a grave consequence."

US officials said Rice's trip had been a success, but one senior lawmaker in Bush's Republican party said his "gut feeling" was that Washington would eventually have to sit down for direct talks with Kim.

Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he thought US officials would say "in terms that they understand,'We're not going to overthrow you. We are not involved in regime change. You're going to stay.'"

"I believe that is going to happen. I hope it happens sooner rather than later," he told Fox News Sunday.

earlier related report
China cautiously reports progress from meeting with Kim Jong-Il
by Karl Malakunas
Beijing (AFP) Oct 20 - China said Friday its first direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il about Pyongyang's nuclear program had achieved some positive results, but warned the crisis could still slip out of control.

Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan, who on Thursday became the first foreign official to meet the reclusive Kim since North Korea conducted its atomic test on October 9, said his trip to Pyongyang had not been a waste of time.

"Fortunately my visit this time has not been in vain," Tang told visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Friday that Kim had told Tang North Korea would not conduct a second nuclear weapons test.

Japan also had information that Kim told Tang Pyongyang was not going to carry out a second test, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said.

"Though it is not confirmed, we have obtained information that he (Kim) told Mr Tang the country won't conduct a second nuclear test," Aso said in a speech outside Tokyo, according to Kyodo news.

However neither Tang, China's leaders or Rice -- in a wide range of public comments made during a hectic day of diplomacy in Beijing -- gave any indication that Kim had made such a commitment.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said only that the two sides had benefited from better "mutual understanding" and that the prospect of resuming the stalled six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program had been discussed.

Chinese President Hu Jintao told Rice in comments broadcast on state-run television that restarting six-party talks was essential, and that also sides needed to be careful to ensure the nuclear crisis did not slip out of control.

"We are willing to make common efforts with all sides to deal with the issue calmly and to act cautiously to prevent the situation from deteriorating or losing control," Hu said.

"We must actively create conditions and strive to restart the six-party talks as soon as possible."

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao described the North Korean nuclear situation as at a "crossroads".

"The direction it takes will have a direct bearing on peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the world," he told Rice in front of reporters as they begun their meeting.

Tang repeated that message, and urged the United States to take a more flexible attitude towards solving the crisis, saying working towards returning to six-party talks was the key.

"This is in the interests of all sides and I hope the United States will take a more active and flexible attitude," Tang was quoted by official Xinhua news agency as saying.

Rice had pressured China throughout the day to ensure it fully implemented the UN Security Council's resolution adopted on Saturday against North Korean in response to its nuclear test.

China -- by far North Korea's closest ally and biggest trading partner and aid donor -- is seen as critical to ensuring the sanctions are enforced but has it had balked at inspecting cargo traveling into and out of its neighbor.

However Rice told reporters after her meetings with the Chinese leadership that she had been assured China would fully implement the sanctions against North Korea.

Rice said China was determined to ensure no illicit materials crossed China's long land border with North Korea -- a major conduit for North Korean trade.

"The Chinese made the point to us that they are scrupulous about that land border," Rice said.

Rice arrived in Beijing from Seoul on Friday morning on the third leg of her four-nation tour to discuss the nuclear crisis. She began the trip in Tokyo and will travel to Moscow on Saturday.

earlier related report
One on one US-NKorea talks inevitable: US senator
Washington (AFP) Oct 22 - The United States eventually will have to agree to direct, one-on-one talks with North Korea on its nuclear program, a top Senate Republican said Sunday. "My gut feeling is that at the end of the day -- and I don't know which day, which week -- there will be an American presence talking to the 'Great Leader' and his people, and saying in essence, in terms that they understand, we're not going to overthrow you. We are not involved in regime change. You're going to stay," said Richard Lugar, chairman of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Washington has long refused Pyongyang's demand for bilateral talks on its nuclear program and favors six-party talks involving countries from the region, but Lugar said US-North Korea talks are "inevitable."

"I believe that is going to happen. I hope it happens sooner rather than later," he told "Fox News Sunday."

The Republican lawmaker made his remarks amid fresh reports Sunday that Pyongyang may be ready for compromise, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed home from Moscow after a mission to increase pressure on the reclusive communist state.

Talk of progress in the stand-off over North Korea's weapon program came as thousands of South Korean anti-war activists rallied in downtown Seoul, demanding US-North Korean direct talks to ease tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear bomb test earlier this month.

The discussion about direct talks comes as ABC television on Sunday aired an interview with US President George W. Bush, warning that North Korea would be "held to account" if the Stalinist regime sold nuclear material to Iran or Al-Qaeda.

"One of the things that's important for these world leaders to hear is, you know, we will use means necessary to hold them to account," he told the US television network.

"If we get intelligence that they're about to transfer a nuclear weapon, we would stop the transfer, and we would deal with the ships that were taking the -- or the airplane that was dealing with taking the -- material to somebody," Bush said in the interview filmed Wednesday.

Asked if the United States would retaliate if such a transfer occurred, Bush said: "You know, I'd just say it's a grave consequence."

He brushed aside rumor that North Korea might set off two or three more tests.

"If they do, all that we'll do is help consolidate a firm group of nations that are tired of North Korea thumbing its nose at the international community," Bush said.

Bush said Washington was equally concerned about the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

"They're both worrisome ... and they've both been worrisome prior to my presidency," he said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Washington (AFP) Oct 20, 2006
A North Korean merchant vessel under US surveillance since it left port in North Korea is believed to be carrying cargo in violation of a UN Security Council embargo, a defense official said Friday. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was believed to be carrying "cargo of a contraband-type nature. It is assessed to be in violation of UN resolutions."

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