Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 1 News List

US sticks to its guns on N Korea's nuclear weapons

AFP , BEIJING

The US refused to back down from its hardline stance on North Korea's nuclear weapons Friday, as six-party talks were extended an extra day in the quest to find a compromise.

Washington's apparent refusal to give any ground followed a North Korean offer to disarm if the US takes a "corresponding" measure, while in the same breath slamming America's instransigence.

In a sign that all six sides are willing to push for an end to the impasse, the talks were extended until today, their fourth day, South Korean delegation spokesman Shin Bong-Kil told journalists.

Despite US Secretary of State Colin Powell characterizing the first two days of talks as "promising" and moving in the "right direction," the US embassy in Beijing took a tougher line, and insisted there would be no inducements.

"The US goal remains the complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantling of North Korea's nuclear programs, including both the DPRK's plutonium and uranium program," an embassy spokeswoman said.

"The US will not provide North Korea with rewards and inducements for complying with its international obligations and commitments," she said.

In a hastily arranged press briefing on Thursday evening, a North Korean official said in Beijing that Pyongyang was willing to freeze its nuclear weapons program if Washington took an unspecified "corresponding" step.

The embassy said it would not comment on specific proposals with the talks still in progress.

"Each party has come to the table with ideas and proposals that we are collectively discussing," the spokeswoman said. "With the talks still ongoing, it is premature for us to respond publicly to specific proposals. This is a deliberate process of intense consultations."

The embassy however repeated that an admission from North Korea that it has a uranium-based nuclear program remained a key demand before any resolution was reached.

"Our judgement on the enrichment program has not changed. We did not learn from the North Koreans that they had a uranium enrichment program. We were already aware of the program and informed them of our knowledge in October 2002," the spokeswoman said.

Powell earlier said: "There is a promising attitude that is emerging from those meetings and hopefully we can move in the right direction there."

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