Thu, Jun 17, 2004 - Page 5 News List

N Korea deal possible: analysts

NUCLEAR PROGRAM Analysts believe the communist state might be open to an agreement that would allow IAEA inspections in exchange for support from the US

AFP , BEIJING

North Korean soldiers look at the southern side through binoculars at the border village of Panmunjom, north of Seoul, yesterday. Ahead of nuclear talks in Beijing, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said yesterday that North Korea must prove to the international community that it can be trusted.

PHOTO: AP

North Korea could agree to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear weapons program at six-party talks next week, if the US agrees to compensation in return, analysts said yesterday.

The third round of talks will be held from June 23 to June 26 in Beijing with few expecting any big breakthroughs because of uncertainties over US presidential elections in November, they said.

"During the talks there will be a possibility of some movement, but there is not a big chance that there will be a breakthrough," said Cui Ying-jiu, a leading North Korea expert at Peking University.

"If the United States can agree or can accept that some fuel oil or other aid can be given by other parties, in exchange for North Korea announcing a freeze on its nuclear weapons program and its acceptance of IAEA inspections, then this would be a step forward.

"This is a possibility."

Cui was speaking after a US official in Washington Tuesday said that the US would not oppose aid concessions to North Korea in exchange for a pledge from Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear weapons program.

"We're not against a freeze and we're not against people saying if they freeze on the way to dismantlement they might even do something for the North Koreans," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"But it has to be clear that any freeze is a step toward elimination of nuclear programs," he said.

The statement appeared to be an adjustment to a US position that has refused any aid to the starving Stalinist nation until its nuclear weapons program is "completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantled."

Earlier this week, North Korea rejected the US demand for complete disarmament and urged Washington to change its long-standing position.

In the last round of talks in February, Pyongyang insisted that any dismantling of its nuclear program must come with simultaneous concessions, namely badly needed food and fuel aid, from the other members of the talks.

Since then working-level talks have been held in Beijing in May and will reconvene again ahead of the higher vice-ministerial talks that were to begin yesterday.

So far China, South Korea and Russia have agreed to the step-by-step approach, while Japan has demanded that North Korea first resolve the thorny issue surrounding the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s.

That issue was addressed when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang last month and brought some of the families of kidnapped victims back to Japan.

"The Americans would see a freeze [of its nuclear weapons program] and acceptance of IAEA inspections by North Korea as progress," said Paul Harris, an international affairs expert at Hong Kong's Lingnan University.

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