Washington (AFP) Oct 31, 2006
Governments around the world hailed Tuesday the news that North Korea had agreed to resume talks on its nuclear programme and abandon nuclear weapons. US President George W. Bush said Tuesday he was "very pleased with the progress made" after North Korea renewed its pledge to scrap its nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees and other concessions.
North Korea has boycotted six-party talks involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States since November last year to protest against US sanctions on a Macau bank accused of laundering money for it.
North Korea's neighbours Japan and South Korea were swift to welcome the breakthrough, which came only three weeks after Pyongyang tested its first nuclear bomb.
Russia welcomed the news but officials sounded a note of caution about whether such negotiations would take place.
UN chief Kofi Annan joined the international chorus of praise for North Korea's decision.
"The secretary general welcomes today's announcement that China, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States have agreed to a resumption of the six-party talks," Annan's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said in a statement.
Bush said that US teams would travel to Asia to verify the application of a UN resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea and to monitor nuclear talks with Pyongyang once they resume.
"We'll be sending teams to the region to work with our partners to make sure that the current United Nations Security Council resolution is enforced but also make sure the talks are effective, that we achieve the result we want," Bush said in remarks at the White House, alluding to Washington's desire for North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons programmes.
"We welcome the announcement and look forward to resuming the talks soon," US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
US negotiator Christopher Hill, after a meeting in Beijing with his North Korean and Chinese counterparts to the six-party talks, said Pyongyang had agreed to return to the talks as early as November without conditions.
Additionally Pyongyang promised to abide by the pledge to scrap its nuclear weapons made at the forum in September 2005.
South Korea expressed relief and pleasure at North Korea's decision to return to the talks.
"We welcome North Korea's return to six-party talks," Prime Minister Han Myeong-Sook told reporters. "We hope the North's decision will be a starting point for the fundamental settlement of the nuclear issue.
"It can be seen as a positive sign of change in North Korea's attitude," she added.
Japan added its welcome.
"Our country has considered the six-nation talks as the most adequate framework for a solution to North Korea's nuclear issue and other issues," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said in a statement.
The top government spokesman added that Japan had been seeking North Korea's "prompt, unconditional return" to the multilateral process.
"We welcome the fact that the talks will be convened at an early date," the statement said."
"The Russian foreign ministry welcomes this decision," foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement published on the ministry's website.
Russian officials, however, were cautious about Pyongyang's reported promises.
"If it's true, we welcome it," Igor Ivanov, head of the Russian security council, told reporters at a briefing in Moscow.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev said: "This information is still not complete since only three sides agreed on the resumption," ITAR-TASS reported.
"We welcome the very positive development and are appreciative of the Chinese efforts in this," said a spokesman for the British Foreign Office, referring to Beijing's help in persuading Pyongyang to return to the multilateral talks.
French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also welcomed the move from Pyongyang as "a positive sign" and noted "the role played by China in this step forward."
Pyongyang's sudden turnaround on its nuclear weapons programme after being hit with international sanctions should be a lesson for Iran, which faces similar punishment over its far less developed programme, a senior US official said.
earlier related report
But underscoring international mistrust of Pyongyang's erratic leaders, Washington insisted UN sanctions imposed on North Korea after it carried out its first nuclear test explosion on October 9 would remain in force for now.
And US officials were pointedly vague about the timing and substance of the upcoming negotiations after numerous false starts with the North Koreans in the past.
"I'm very pleased with the progress being made in the Far East," Bush said after the surprise announcement of North Korea's decision, before adding: "Obviously, we've still got a lot of work to do".
Bush said US diplomats would soon be going to Asia to ensure continued enforcement of the UN sanctions against North Korea pending a new round of negotiations.
The diplomats will also "make sure that the talks are effective -- that we achieve the results we want, which is a North Korea that abandons their nuclear weapons programs, and her nuclear weapons, in a verifiable fashion," he said.
The United States announced earlier Tuesday that North Korea had agreed during secret talks in Beijing to abide by a September 2005 pledge to give up its nuclear arsenal, now believed to include up to a dozen bombs. After seven hours of discussions, which included two-way talks between US envoy Christopher Hill and the North Koreans as well as trilateral meetings involving the Chinese, the North Koreans said they would return to six-party negotiations they had boycotted for the past year.
Those talks will focus on how to implement the 2005 disarmament deal and on a series of security, energy and economic guarantees offered by the parties to the talks -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
Bush singled out the role of China, which initiated Tuesday's meeting and has played a key role in the six-party process as North Korea's oldest ally and main aid and trading partner.
"I want to thank the Chinese for encouraging the meeting that got the agreement to get the six-party talks restarted," he said.
The turnaround came barely two weeks after the UN Security Council voted unanimously to impose trade sanctions on North Korea designed to starve its military of funds and materiel needed for its arms programs and to prevent Pyongyang from selling its weapons know-how to terrorists or other states.
Bush attributed the breakthrough to the US policy of dealing with North Korea through a coalition of regional states rather than resuming bilateral negotiations which had failed in the past to halt Pyongyang's nuclear program.
"I've always felt like it is important for the United States to be at the table with other partners when it comes time to addressing this important issue," he said.
North Korea had been demanding bilateral talks with the US as a condition for returning to the broader negotiations and Bush was under growing pressure from across the US political spectrum to engage the North directly.
US officials insisted that while Tuesday's meetings included bilateral contacts with the North Koreans, the encounters were handled in the six-party context and did not amount to the kind of one-on-one negotiations Pyongyang had been seeking.
"There is a distinction between discussions and negotiations," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
"We are dedicated to this (six-party) framework," he said, adding that the other members of the coalition had been informed beforehand about the Beijing meeting.
Moscow however bridled at the North Korean announcement, with Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev complaining that "only three sides agreed on the resumption" of negotiations.
US officials meanwhile remained vague about when the next round of talks would take place and what could guarantee a more successful outcome than past negotiations.
McCormack would say only that the talks needed to be "productive and effective", but would not be drawn on what specific steps North Korea would be required to take to get the sanctions against it lifted.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Rice Urges Major Powers To Speed Up Sanctions On Iran
Washington DC (AFP) Oct 31, 2006
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called her major power counterparts Tuesday in a bid to spur tough negotiations at the United Nations over a sanctions resolution against Iran, a senior US official said. Rice urged the foreign ministers from the other permament UN Security Council members -- Britain, China, France and Russia -- to overcome the differences that have prevented agreement on the sanctions package, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said.