Sun, Feb 08, 2009 - Page 1 News List

North Korea sets new conditions for disarmament talks

AGENCIES , BEIJING AND SEOUL

North Korea wants to advance nuclear disarmament steps if its aid demands are met, while playing down concerns over possible missile launches, a former senior US diplomat just back from Pyongyang said yesterday.

Tensions have risen in recent weeks after reports North Korea could seek to win leverage by firing short-range missiles into a disputed sea border with South Korea or firing long-range ones.

Stephen Bosworth, a former US ambassador to South Korea and now dean at the Fletcher School of diplomacy at Tufts University, said senior North Korean officials he met in his five-day visit to Pyongyang would not confirm or deny any missile launch plans.

“They said we should all wait and see,” he said of the possibility of launches. “There was no threat, no indication that they were concerned. They treated the missile issue as just another run-of-the-mill issue.”

The North Korean officials told Bosworth’s group of seven US academics and former officials that their country wants progress in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks, which have faltered in dispute over the North’s obligations and its demands for more heavy fuel oil shipments.

“We concluded that the outlook is that we can continue to work toward eventual denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Bosworth told reporters at Beijing airport.

“They understand that the [US President Barack] Obama administration will need some time to sort itself through the [North Korea] policy review and they expressed patience. There’s no sense of alarm or urgency,” he said.

Those talks sealed an initial agreement offering Pyongyang energy aid and an opening to better international ties in return for shutting and crippling its key Yongbyon nuclear facility in a “phase two” deal, prior to deeper disarmament steps.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang said yesterday it was actively pursuing a space program, amid reports from US and South Korean officials that North Korea was preparing to test-fire a long-range missile.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official daily of the ruling communist party, said North Korea had every right to develop a space program as a member of the international community.

“The DPRK’s [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea] policy of advancing to space for peaceful purposes is a justifiable aim that fits the global trend of the times. There is no power in the world that can stop it,” the newspaper said in an editorial.

“As long as developing and using space are aimed at peaceful purposes and such efforts contribute to enhancing human beings’ happiness, no one in the world can find fault with them,” it said.

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