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North Korea: U.S. Uncertain About Pyonyang's Nuclear Intentions

Is North Korea ready to deal and give up its nuclear-weapons program for economic aid and some sort of security guarantee from the United States? A top U.S. diplomat who participated in recent talks with North Korea says he cannot say that the communist North has made a decision to do so.

Washington, 16 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A senior U.S. official says it remains unclear whether North Korea has made the strategic decision to abandon its nuclear-weapons program.

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said yesterday that North Korea did acknowledge during recent six-party talks in Beijing that the bulk of the country's nuclear program is weapons-related. The talks involved the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan.

Kelly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that North Korea says it wants to maintain a civil nuclear program. As for its weapons program, Kelly told the senators, "I could not say at this point that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] has indeed made the strategic calculation to give up its nuclear weapons in return for real peace and prosperity through trade, aid, and economic development."
Kelly also said the United States will not establish normal relations with North Korea even if that country agrees to abandon its nuclear-weapons program.

Kelly said North Korea proposed at the Beijing meeting it would freeze its nuclear-weapons programs -- but not necessarily dismantle them -- in exchange for rewards. Those rewards might include energy aid and a commitment by the United States not to overthrow the regime.

Still, the U.S. diplomat said the United States is committed to resolve the nuclear dispute through diplomatic means. "I believe that diplomacy is the best way to overcome North Korea’s nuclear threat and that the six-party process is the most appropriate approach," he said. "Our aim is to fully and finally resolve the nuclear program, not to implement half-measures or sweep the problem under the rug for future policymakers to deal with."

Kelly also said the United States will not establish normal relations with North Korea even if that country agrees to abandon its nuclear-weapons program. He said that step could only be taken after the communist North improves its human rights record and ends what he called other objectionable activities such as arms sales and suspected drug-related activities.

Commenting on the talks, Kelly said it is clear that an agreement is still far away.

North Korea has a chronic economic problem and needs food and energy aid. An estimated 10 percent of North Korea's population is believed to have starved to death over the past decade because of the communist government's policies.

The United States says North Korea first acknowledged two years ago that it was secretly developing nuclear weapons in violation of an earlier accord with Washington. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has estimated that North Korea already possesses at least two nuclear weapons along with medium-range missiles capable of delivering them.