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Friday, September 17, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
North Korean stipulation may postpone nuclear talks
By SANG-HUN CHOE
South Korea recently acknowledged that it conducted a plutonium-based nuclear experiment more than 20 years ago. That admission came shortly after it said it conducted a uranium-enrichment experiment four years ago.
Plutonium and enriched uranium are two key ingredients of nuclear weapons.
The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier this week that Seoul's failure to report the unauthorized experiments was a matter of serious concern.
The United States wants North Korea to halt its nuclear activities immediately. North Korea says it will freeze its nuclear facilities as a first step toward their eventual dismantling only if the United States lifts economic sanctions and provides energy and economic aid.
Three rounds of talks by China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia haven't produced major progress toward settling the nuclear dispute. The six nations had previously agreed to meet again by the end of this month, but no date has been set.
North Korea relayed its position on the talks when British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell visited Pyongyang earlier this week, an unidentified spokesman of the North Korean Foreign Ministry told the country's official news agency, KCNA.
During Rammell's four-day visit that ended Tuesday, North Korea "clarified its stand that it can never sit at the table to negotiate its nuclear-weapon program unless truth about the secret nuclear experiments in South Korea is fully probed," KCNA quoted the North Korean spokesman as saying.
A senior U.S. official said this week that North Korea has decided to wait until at least after the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential elections to start talking again.
The North Korean spokesman said his government clarified to Rammell that "it does not care who becomes U.S. president and that it considers the U.S. policy toward the (North) as the only yardstick."
Also yesterday, David Slinn, Britain's ambassador to North Korea, traveled to the site of a massive explosion Sept. 9 to verify claims by the North that it wasn't caused by a nuclear test. He was accompanied by diplomats from Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Russia and Mongolia, Rammell said in London.
The size of the reported explosion and its timing on the 56th anniversary of North Korea's founding had raised speculation that it might be a nuclear test. Experts say they don't think the blast near the Chinese border was a nuclear test. North Korea has said the blast was part of demolition work for a hydroelectric project.
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