Sun, May 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

N Korea still wants nukes

SAFETY FEARS A visiting diplomat says officials told him that until the country feels safe from US attack, its nuclear arms program will continue

AP , BEIJING

UN envoy Maurice Strong, center, speaks on his arrival in Beijing after meeting with North Korean leaders yesterday to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis.

PHOTO: AP

North Korea is vowing to push ahead with nuclear weapons development until it gets a reliable guarantee that the US won't attack, said a UN envoy who returned Saturday from the reclusive nation.

North Korean leaders are expressing doubt that Washington wants to see progress in six-nation talks on its nuclear ambitions, said Maurice Strong, who visited Pyongyang on behalf of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"They look at their nuclear weapons as the best guarantee they have against a threat that they perceive from the United States," Strong told reporters at the Beijing airport. ``They are going to continue, they say, to develop that capability until there is a security guarantee that they can rely on.''

Washington has rejected North Korea's demand for a bilateral nonaggression treaty. The communist government says it could consider a security guarantee from the six nations taking part in nuclear talks organized by China. The other participants are South Korea, Russia and Japan.

On Friday, a South Korean newspaper quoted a North Korean diplomat as calling for a peace treaty with Washington and Seoul to replace the Korean War armistice as part of a nuclear settlement.

Strong was in North Korea to discuss the nuclear talks and a possible rescue package for its decrepit economy once the 19-month-old standoff is settled.

"They express real doubt as to whether the United States wants progress or not," he said. "They say that if the US really wants progress, then progress will be made."

Strong said he met with the head of the North's legislature, military commanders and the foreign minister, but didn't see its paramount leader, Kim Jong Il.

Two rounds of high-level nuclear talks have produced no major progress toward ending the dispute that erupted in late 2002 after the United States said the North admitted operating a nuclear program in violation of a 1994 pact.

Another high-level meeting, hosted by China, is due to take place in June.

A low-level technical meeting in Beijing ended last week with the North denouncing what it said was a US refusal to discuss giving aid in exchange for freezing work on its nuclear program.

Washington and its allies say energy assistance and other aid will come only after North Korea pledges to permanently dismantle its program, a condition the North has rejected.

North Korean officials said they were ready to freeze the nuclear program and dismantle it "in return for a freezing of some of ... what they call `hostile policy measures' that have been instigated by the US," Strong said.

Strong didn't give details, so it wasn't clear whether the comments represented any difference from earlier North Korean proposals already rejected by Washington.

Strong said North Korea also was cautious in its expectations of progress from a meeting Saturday between Kim and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was expected to press the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North.

North Korean officials ``were looking forward to this visit, but they were very cautious in their expectations of it,'' Strong said.

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