Mon, Dec 29, 2003 - Page 5 News List

North Korea says it's willing to join talks next year


North Korea said on Saturday that it was willing to hold six-nation talks early next year on ending its nuclear weapons program, the North's government-run news agency reported.

The first round of six-way talks on US demands that the North scrap its nuclear weapons program had ended in August without an agreement or a date for new talks. Russia, South Korea and Japan also are taking part.

China's top diplomat on the Korean nuclear issue, Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, met North Korean leaders in Pyongyang days ago, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the North's official news agency, KCNA.

Wang and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju "exchanged views on the matter of holding six-nation talks," KCNA said.

"Both sides ... expressed their willingness to make appropriate preparations so that talks can resume at an early date next year to continue the process for a peaceful solution to the nuclear issue," KCNA quoted the spokesman as saying.

KCNA was monitored by South Korea's national Yonhap news agency.

The North Korean spokesman was quoted as reiterating the North's demands that the nuclear dispute be resolved through a "package deal based on simultaneous actions."

North Korea demands that the US provide it with economic aid and security assurances in return for dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Washington wants North Korea to abandon its nuclear program first.

The nuclear crisis flared in October last year when US officials accused North Korea of running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 deal in which North Korea is obliged to freeze its nuclear facilities. Washington and its allies cut off free oil shipments, also part of the 1994 accord.

North Korea retaliated by kicking out UN nuclear monitors, quitting the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and declaring that it was restarting its nuclear facilities.

North Korea says it has completed reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods in a process that could yield enough plutonium for several more bombs.

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