New Zealand's foreign minister said yesterday that North Korean leaders told him they will stick to pledges to scrap their nuclear program but insist other nations must provide promised aid and political concessions in exchange.
"Their officials reaffirmed their full commitment in implementing current agreements," New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in Beijing following a two-day trip to Pyongyang.
"They also made it clear that this was contingent on all other six-party participants fulfilling their obligations on the agreed schedule," he said.
Peters was the highest-level Western official to visit the North since the government of leader Kim Jong-il exploded a nuclear device in October last year, prompting an international outcry. He said he met with Kim Yong-nam, the country's No. 2 official who serves as head of state, and the North's foreign affairs, trade and agriculture ministers.
US officials have expressed confidence that Pyongyang is carrying out commitments as part of talks that include South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.
But South Korea's defense minister said in a speech last week that the threat from the North has not diminished.
The South has warned the process could be derailed if Washington fails to remove the North from a list of terrorism sponsors.
The US government says it has begun that process, but its ally Japan and some US lawmakers are opposed.
New Zealand is not part of the six-nation talks, but Peters said his government was ready to support the denuclearization process. Wellington opened diplomatic relations with Pyongyang in 2001, while Washington and Tokyo have no formal ties with the North.
"I left the clear impression with the North Koreans that there is an enormous community out there that I believe would back their cooperation on this issue with significant investment and aid," Peters said.
Peters said that he previously talked with officials of all the other governments participating in the six-nation talks.
He said that while in Beijing he would meet China's top nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei (
A team of US experts has begun disabling the North's nuclear facilities, and Peters said officials told New Zealand diplomats the North was "cooperating fully."
The government of US President George W. Bush has accused the North of cheating on previous deals. Critics question whether the regime really is willing to give up its membership in the small group of nuclear-armed nations, despite incentives from the international community.
Peters said North Korean officials expressed concern about Tokyo's insistence on resolving the question of Japanese nationals who it says were abducted by the North's agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Tokyo has refused to provide aid under the denuclearization agreement unless Pyongyang accounts for abductees.
Peters said he urged the North Koreans not to let the issue obstruct the disarmament process.
"We sought to encourage them, given how important the issue that we're working on is, the disarmament of nuclear capability, to find ways to work through with the Japanese to a resolution of this issue," he said.
"We were totally focused on keeping their mind on what the six-party talks are about, why they began why they are of such importance now and not losing sight of the ultimate outcome," Peters said.