Talks resume on North Korea nuclear program

Six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear programs will resume Thursday in Beijing after a nine-month break, according to South Korea's chief negotiator Kim Sook.


Six-party talks on scrapping North Korea's nuclear programmes will resume Thursday in Beijing after a nine-month break, South Korea's chief negotiator Kim Sook said.

"The chief delegates of the six-party talks will meet (Thursday) for the first time in nine months," Kim told reporters en route to Beijing for preliminary meetings.

China, which has hosted the forum since August 2003, has yet to announce a date for the widely expected resumption.

North Korea last month delivered a long-overdue declaration of its nuclear activities, clearing the way for progress in the tortuous negotiations.

In a dramatic gesture intended to stress its commitment to disarmament, it also blew up the cooling tower at the plutonium-producing Yongbyon complex.

"I will be in consultation with each country to secure an important bridgehead for achieving the goal that North Korea should eventually give up its nuclear weapons programmes," Kim told reporters.

Seoul's envoy also said working-level meetings would be held on denuclearisation and economic and energy aid in between the top-level talks.

The communist North last week said it could not go ahead with the next stage of a six-party denuclearisation deal until other parties speed up their promised energy aid.

Under the current second phase the North should get energy aid equivalent to one million tons of fuel oil and the lifting of some US sanctions, in return for disabling Yongbyon and documenting its nuclear activities.

The US has eased some trade sanctions and moved towards taking the North off its list of state sponsors of terrorism, in response to the declaration.

The third and final phase calls for the North permanently to dismantle atomic plants and hand over all nuclear material and weaponry in exchange for diplomatic ties with the US and Japan and a formal peace pact.

Kim said he expects the next round to focus on evaluating the nuclear declaration and establishing a system to verify it, on completing phase two and on starting the final phase.

The negotiators would also prepare for a meeting of foreign ministers from the six parties -- the two Koreas, China, the US, Russia and Japan.

US National Security Council director for Asia Dennis Wilder said Saturday the talks are at "a very pivotal point."

Some negotiators fear the North may try to keep existing nuclear weapons despite scrapping its plutonium production, South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak said over the weekend.

"There is concern that North Korea might want to retain nuclear weapons that they have already produced so, in fact, they can be considered as a nuclear weapon state," Lee told Japan's Kyodo News.

The North tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006.

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