Thu, Feb 24, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Negotiators in bid to revive talks

NUCLEAR ARMS CRISIS Officials from the US, Japan and South Korea will meet in Seoul this weekend to try to thrash out a compromise and resume six-party talks

AP , SEOUL

Top negotiators from the US, Japan and South Korea will huddle in Seoul over the weekend to discuss resuming nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea after the communist country's leader hinted at a possible compromise, officials said yesterday.

Resuming the stalled talks gained urgency after North Korea declared on Feb. 10 that it had built nuclear weapons. On Monday, its leader Kim Jong-il told a visiting Chinese envoy that his government would return to the negotiating table if certain conditions are met, though he did not detail them.

"It's inappropriate for North Korea to attach conditions to returning to the talks," South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said yesterday.

"The North must come to the talks unconditionally and then it can present its differences and all the parties can try to strike a deal through negotiations," he said.

The weekend meeting, scheduled for Saturday, brings together South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon; Kenichiro Sasae, director-general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asia-Oceania bureau; and Christopher Hill, US ambassador to Seoul who was named as the top US negotiator.

The three allies coordinate their strategies on how to end North Korea's nuclear threats through six-nation talks that also include North Korea, China and Russia.

Since 2003, China has hosted three rounds of six-nation talks in Beijing, with little progress reported. A fourth round scheduled for last September never took place as North Korea refused to attend, citing what it calls a "hostile" US policy.

North Korea has not elaborated on what conditions Kim set for returning to the negotiating table. In the previous talks, North Korea has demanded more aid and a peace treaty with Washington in exchange for giving up its nuclear program -- measures that it apparently hopes will guarantee the survival of Kim's regime.

Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reported on Tuesday that Kim told the Chinese envoy that a resumption of the six-party negotiations also depended on changes in Japan's position.

It quoted a source close to the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang as saying that Kim complained that Tokyo was blocking the talks by demanding a settlement of a dispute over North Korea's kidnapping of Japanese citizens more than 25 years ago. North Korea insists the issue has been fully settled, but Japan is demanding a full accounting of the kidnap victims.

Akira Chiba, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Japan had not been informed of any such comments by Kim.

China urged the US and North Korea on Tuesday to be more flexible in efforts to resolve their nuclear standoff.

But it would not confirm whether it had offered North Korea more aid to resume the negotiations.

ITAR-Tass said the Chinese envoy told Kim that Beijing was ready to increase oil deliveries to North Korea if it returned to the six-nation talks.

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