North Korea Returns to Table for Nuclear Talks

Six-party talks resume Wednesday in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear programs. During the last round in September, Pyongyang agreed to dismantle those programs. This round is expected to explore that commitment and focus on what North Korea will get in exchange.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programs resume today in Beijing. During the last round in September, North Korea agreed to dismantle those programs. This round is expected to explore that commitment and focus on what it will get in exchange. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

At one point it seemed that the modest consensus reached last time might collapse. Pyongyang agreed on September 19th to abandon its nuclear programs, but a day later it turned around and said it would only disarm if given a light-water nuclear reactor. Today the talks resumed deadlocked over this and other issues. US lead negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, restated Washington's position.

Assistant Secretary CHRISTOPHER HILL (Department of State): Our delegation ver--made it very clear that first they've got to disarm, create a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. And once they are back in the NPT with IAEA safeguards, at an appropriate time we will have a discussion about the subject of a provision of a light-water reactor.

KUHN: The nuclear issues came to a head when North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, in 2002 and then expelled inspectors of the UN monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA. At the opening of the talks today, Chinese lead negotiator, Wu Dawei, said the discussions would focus on the concrete steps necessary to implement the September joint statement. The statement said that denuclearization would proceed in a series of reciprocal moves, commitment for commitment and action for action. But critics say that the statement was too short of specifics to be of much value. Peter Beck of the think tank the International Crisis Group has been watching the proceedings from Seoul, South Korea.

Mr. PETER BECK (International Crisis Group): I think the press made a mistake at the beginning calling what we had on September 19th an agreement--was just a joint statement, and really an agreement on principle. So they really haven't agreed on specifics of, you know, what an agreement would actually entail, much less how to implement it.

KUHN: As Beck points out, Pyongyang hasn't declared just how much nuclear materiel it has. North Korea told an unofficial delegation in August that it would expand its Pyongyang nuclear facility, increasing by tenfold its capacity to make weapons-grade nuclear fuel. Former Los Alamos National Laboratory director Siegfried Hecker, who led the delegation, said in Washington yesterday that Pyongyang was moving full speed ahead with its nuclear weapons program.

Meanwhile, the lack of trust between Pyongyang and Washington became apparent when President Bush spoke at a roundtable discussion in Brazil on Sunday. He said that although his father had fought the Japanese in World War II, he was now cooperation with Japan in facing down a tyrant in North Korea. Pyongyang said the remark about their leader, Kim Jong Il, dimmed prospects for success at the current round of talks. Beck says he doubts there's sufficient political will in either capital to do much other than keep negotiating.

Mr. BECK: I haven't seen any indication that they're really--that the North is really ready to keep moving forward. Again, they're getting what they need to keep their economy going from Beijing and Seoul, so I don't think they feel any immediate need for achieving a breakthrough.

KUHN: The talks are scheduled to last three days, partly because all the sides, except North Korea, will be attending a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization in Pusan, South Korea, later this month. Another round of six-party talks is expected before year's end. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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