Tue, Mar 01, 2005 - Page 5 News List

N Korea reportedly willing to suspend nuclear program


North Korea has told South Korea it would return to talks on its nuclear drive in June and offer to suspend the program in hopes of aid and a US pledge not to invade, a Japanese newspaper reported yesterday.

Pyongyang told Seoul through unofficial channels about its intention late last month after it announced it was indefinitely pulling out of nuclear talks, the Sankei Shimbun said, citing Japanese government sources.

The conservative newspaper said North Korea had set June to return to talks because the US has insisted that Pyongyang come back to the table within a year.

The last six-nation negotiations on North Korea's nuclear program were last June in Beijing, with Pyongyang boycotting a fourth round of talks scheduled for September citing Washington's "hostile policy."

The Sankei said North Korea would offer at the next six-nation talks to suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid. With the progress in hand, Pyongyang would hope to reach an agreement in October with the US in which Washington would pledge not to invade, the report said.

South Korean and Japanese officials denied the report.

"The report is not true. If it had been true, we would have aggressively made it public," a South Korean foreign ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said: "I have not heard anything about it."

"But June is so far away and I cannot even imagine" what will happen, Hosoda said, adding that Japan hoped the next round of six-way talks would be held soon.

The Sankei said North Korea had been seeking concessions and decided to return to talks after realizing that re-elected US President George W. Bush would not change his firm stance on Pyongyang.

North Korea said on Feb. 10 that it had developed nuclear weapons for self-defense due to hostility from Washington and would indefinitely boycott the talks involving the two Koreas, China, the US, Japan and Russia.

However, leader Kim Jong-il later told a Chinese envoy that Pyongyang would return to talks if certain conditions were met.

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