Wed, Feb 21, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Australia preparing to revive ties with N Korea

WARMING Australia is one of the first countries to acknowledge that North Korea has made progress over nuclear talks and will send a mission there soon

AP , CANBERRA

Australia will send a diplomatic mission to North Korea in the next few weeks to begin rebuilding ties, following a landmark deal in which the North promised to end its nuclear programs, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday.

Howard made the announcement a few hours after talking with US President George W. Bush by phone about North Korea and other issues.

"We're going to be sending a diplomatic group to North Korea in the not too distant future, the next few weeks, to put down some benchmarks about the restoration of our bilateral diplomatic relationship," Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

"We want to go along with the agreement," he said.

Australia has cautiously welcomed the denuclearization deal struck last week between North Korea, the US and four other nations, noting that the North had reneged on promises in the past.

Under the deal, the hardline communist regime agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow UN inspectors back into the country in exchange for aid equal to 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

Howard said he and Bush were "realistically optimistic" about the pact.

Australia and the US are close trade and military allies, and share security intelligence. North Korea is expected to be among topics Howard will discuss with US Vice President Dick Cheney when he visits Australia later this week.

Australia and North Korea restored diplomatic ties in May 2002, 27 years after the North cut them abruptly by recalling its diplomats from Canberra and expelling Australia's. But Canberra froze bilateral relations in November 2002 as concerns about the North's nuclear programs escalated.

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