Sat, Aug 02, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Pyongyang says yes to multilateral talks over nukes


North Korea said yesterday that it has agreed to US-proposed multilateral talks on its suspected development of nuclear weapons but that it will push for bilateral talks with the US during the proposed multiparty conclave.

Although the US and its allies invited to the talks welcomed Pyongyang's move, the North Korea comments indicated that it may try hard to elicit US concessions directly, while stalling multilateral talks involving the other countries.

The North's agreement to join multilateral talks was a concession by Pyongyang, which has insisted that the nuclear issues is essentially a bilateral matter with the US, and has demanded one-on-one dialogue with Washington.

Pyongyang wants a nonagression treaty with the US, which it accuses of intending to attack, and has in the past sought to leverage aid from Washington.

The US cautiously welcomed the latest North Korean gesture, although the countries involved have yet to announce when the talks will take place.

Washington considers North Korea's nuclear programs a regional concern, and for months, it has urged Pyongyang to join multilateral talks that will also include South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Washington demands that North Korea forsake its suspected nuclear weapons programs. US officials believe North Korea may already possess one or two nuclear bombs and plan to build more.

The latest development eases tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula. For much of the year, Pyongyang has warned of an impending "nuclear war" on the divided peninsula, while the US said it will not give in to North Korea's "blackmail" diplomacy.

A spokesman of the North's Foreign Ministry told Pyongyang's official news agency KCNA yesterday that North Korean officials delivered its decision during a contact with US officials in New York on Thursday.

The unnamed North Korean spokesman said Pyongyang agreed to multilateral talks after Washington told North Korea that the two sides could meet separately during those multilateral talks.

"Some time ago the US informed the DPRK [North Korea] through a third party that the DPRK-US bilateral talks may be held within the framework of multilateral talks," KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying.

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