North Korea Agrees to Rejoin Nuclear Talks

North Korea will return to six-nation talks on nuclear disarmament, according to Chinese diplomats. The diplomatic breakthrough comes three weeks after North Korea conducted its first known atomic test.

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President GEORGE W. BUSH: I thank not only the Chinese but the South Koreans, the Japanese and the Russians.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

President Bush was thanking those countries today for agreeing to resume their talks with North Korea. The news here is that North Korea agreed to talk. Its decision comes three weeks after a nuclear test. Now North Koreans will discuss their future with their neighbors and the United States. President Bush says this is the goal.

President BUSH: In North Korea, that abandons their nuclear weapons programs and her nuclear weapons in a verifiable fashion in return for a better way forward for her people.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is covering the story from Beijing. Anthony, why the change?

ANTHONY KUHN: Well, we found out about this from Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who just briefed reporters. And the breakthrough seems to have come when China organized three-way talks with Chinese, American, and North Korean negotiators, and they agreed that they would continue the six-party talks at the earliest convenient time. Washington would like to see those take place before year's end. So the six-party talks has been stalled for a year, essentially since the North boycotted them in response to U.S. sanctions, which were in turn triggered by what it said was counterfeiting and other illegal activities.

And now, basically, we're back to the status quo as of a year ago, discussing how to get rid of North Korea's nuclear programs.

INSKEEP: Well, now, let's remember the basics here. When you say six-party talks, we're talking about discussions between North Korea, the United States, and North Korea's neighbors, among others. Those are the people who were supposed to be discussing the future of North Korea's nuclear program. Why would North Korea come back to that weeks after conducting this nuclear test?

KUHN: Well, you remember that after the North Koreans did this test on October 9th, they immediately said that this was not a contradiction of their eventual goal to de-nuclearize the peninsula. And this was an outcome that a lot of analysts had been looking for. Essentially, people felt that things had come to a crossroads - either the North Koreans could have escalated, they could have set off another nuclear device to test, or they could have backed down, beat a tactical retreat to give everybody some breathing room. And that's what they did. So this is not unexpected.

INSKEEP: Do U.N. sanctions go away now that North Korea's agreed to talk?

KUHN: No. The U.S. made it clear in the talks that this will not affect the U.N. sanctions, which were in response to North Korea's nuclear test. However, what they did say was that the U.S. would be willing to discuss the financial sanctions that were put in place last year in response to alleged counterfeiting and other activities.

INSKEEP: Oh, and those are the sanctions that are seen as being really harmful to the regime, which gets a lot of its money through illegal activities like that.

KUHN: Well, yes, it appears that this hurt the North Koreans, and this was why they boycotted the talks. The U.S. has not promised to drop those sanctions. It just says it will address them in the six-party forum.

INSKEEP: Okay, Anthony. Thanks very much.

KUHN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in Beijing, where it's been announced that six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program are to resume. It means that North Korea returns to the bargaining table weeks after a nuclear test.

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