Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 1 News List

North Korea says disarming possible as talks commence

AFP , BEIJING

North Korea said yesterday it may be willing to give up its nuclear weapons, as fresh six-nation talks began here amid warnings that four years of tough diplomacy on Pyongyang was at a crossroads.

Four months after North Korea conducted its first atomic test to back its claims of being a nuclear power, the isolated nation's chief atomic envoy said disarming was a possibility, but that the onus rested with the US.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan said he was prepared to talk about reviving a deal made in the six-way talks in September 2005, under which North Korea would scrap its nuclear program in return for aid, energy benefits and security guarantees.

"We are ready to discuss the initial steps, but whether the US will give up its hostile policy against us and come out for mutual peaceful co-existence will be the basis for our judgement," Kim told reporters ahead of the talks. "There are still lots of contentious points yet to be settled. It depends on how we settle those contentious points. We'll have to wait and see."

Before the on-again, off-again negotiations resumed yesterday afternoon, US envoy Christopher Hill said he believed North Korea could be enticed into recommitting to the 2005 deal.

The agreement fell apart only two months after it was signed amid North Korean protests over unrelated US sanctions imposed against it for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting.

Although the sanctions standoff remains, Hill said he expected Kim would negotiate this week on reviving the deal, following positive direct talks between the pair in Berlin last month.

"I have every reason to believe that, but it's really between him and his boss," Hill said.

China is the host of the six-way talks, which began in 2003 with the initial aim of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

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