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North Korea: Pyongyang Agrees To Resume Nuclear Talks

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (file photo) (AFP) October 31, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- North Korea has agreed to resume talks about its nuclear-weapons program.

China and the United States announced the development today in Beijing after a meeting of negotiators from the three countries. The agreement comes three weeks after North Korea announced that it had conducted its first test of a nuclear bomb.

North Korea left the six-party talks with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States in September 2005.

Probably By The End Of The Year

A lack of communications, combined with the country’s October 9 nuclear test, had raised the question of whether the talks would ever resume.

But today in Beijing, the Chinese and U.S. negotiators announced that North Korea has agreed to return to the talks, probably by the end of the year. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill acknowledged that Pyongyang's recent behavior had impeded the effort to resume talks.

"We are a long way from our goals still," Hill said. "I'm very pleased -- we are very pleased -- that [North Korea] is committing to return to the talks, to implement the statement, but as someone who has been involved in this, I have not broken out the cigars and champagne quite yet, believe me."

The bomb test drew a sharp reaction from North Korea's partners in the talks, particularly the United States and Japan. And China, Pyongyang's sponsor and closest ally, issued a strong warning over the incident.

China And The United States

Hill said today's development came about, at least in part, through careful Chinese diplomacy. Beijing urged the United States not to press for unnecessarily harsh sanctions on Pyongyang.

As for the United States and North Korea, Hill said both sides were less rigid in their stances than they have been in the past. In particular, he said, Washington agreed to discuss the financial sanctions it has imposed on North Korea over suspected money laundering and counterfeiting.

North Korea had been refusing to take part in the talks to protest those sanctions.

In Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush credited China for bringing about the agreement to resume talks.

"I'm pleased, and I want to thank the Chinese for encouraging the meeting that got the agreement to get the six-party talks restarted," Bush said. "I've always felt like it is important for the United States to be at the table with other partners when it comes time to addressing this important issue."

After the bomb test, the UN Security Council passed a resolution to prevent trade that could help North Korea's nuclear program. Bush said he will send U.S. teams to the region to make sure that the UN resolution is enforced, but also, in his words, "to make sure the [six-party] talks are effective."

Today's unpublicized meeting was held at a Chinese government guesthouse in Beijing. Hill said that despite the positive results, the exchanges were not all pleasant.

A Nuclear Power?

For example, Hill said North Korea's representative, Kim Gye Gwan, portrayed his government as a nuclear power. The U.S. representative said he replied that neither Washington nor Beijing accepts that characterization.

South Korea and Russia also welcomed the news that North Korea was returning to the talks. Both countries have long said the best way to deal with North Korea is to engage it.

And while Japan praised the development, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted as saying it also wouldn't accept North Korea's presence at the negotiations in the role of a nuclear power.