ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Today North Korea agreed to return to six party negotiations on ending its nuclear weapons program. It's an about face for Pyongyang, which exploded its first nuclear device just three weeks ago. The talks involving the US, North and South Korea, China, Russia and Japan could get underway again as soon as next month.
NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing.
ANTHONY KUHN: According to US assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill, China invited him and the North Koreans to discuss restarting the six party talks. He said that in seven hours of negotiations, he spoke individually with Chinese and North Korean negotiators and with both sides together.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Assistant Secretary of State): We all reaffirmed, including the DPRK delegation, reaffirmed our commitment to the September statement and to the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
KUHN: The DPRK is the acronym for the North Korea's official name. Last September, the six parties signed a statement saying that North Korea would end its nuclear weapons programs and in return get economic and energy assistance. One month later, Pyongyang boycotted the talks in protest against US financial sanctions. Washington imposed the sanctions, charging that North Korea was engaged in money laundering and counterfeiting US currency. Hill said that the North Koreans bought up the issue of the sanctions today.
Mr. HILL: They wanted us to be prepared to address these financial measures in the six party process, and we're prepared to do that.
KUHN: But Hill stressed that North Korea would have to give up its illicit activities. He said the North Koreans also complained about United Nations sanctions imposed in response to Pyongyang's nuclear test this month. Hill made it clear that those sanctions would remain enforced even if the six party talks resumed. Like President Bush, secretary Hill praised the Chinese for helping to get the talks restarted
Mr. HILL: I think one of the important dynamics of recent weeks has been a very close US/Chinese effort to work together.
KUHN: Some critics have recently scolded China and South Korea for implementing the UN sanctions too gingerly by, for example, refusing to search North Korean ships on the high seas. Chinese analyst says Beijing held back so as to give Pyongyang room to climb down and resume talks. Still, some observers doubt Pyongyang's promise to ultimately give up its nukes.
Graham Allison was assistant secretary of defense under the Clinton administration. He is now director of the Belfer Center at Harvard University's Kennedy school of government. He says three years of six party talks with North Korea have led nowhere.
Mr. GRAHAM ALLISON (Harvard University): During those three years, the North Koreans produced more plutonium, worked on their nuclear bomb test, worked on their missiles, tested their missiles. The fact that there's been talking could just be a tactical distraction.
KUHN: The North Koreans, Allison warns, never made a weapon system that they didn't sell. His main concern now is that Pyongyang could sell its nuclear weapons or materials to some country or terrorist group seeking to attack the US.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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