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North Korea 'biding time' on talks

From CNN Assignment Editor Jonathan Wald

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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- North Korea is still committed to taking part in talks aimed at resolving the standoff over its nuclear program, but the secretive communist state has not said when it will resume negotiations, a senior British official says.

British Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell said he was encouraged by the "limited progress" made in establishing a dialogue, but was frustrated by the lack of tangible results.

Rammell spoke after meeting in New York with Choe Su Hon -- the North Korean vice foreign minister responsible for human rights -- for the second time in a week.

The two had met previously in North Korea during a four-day trip by Rammell to the country.

"We need to see action not words," Rammell told CNN.

"We certainly want a peaceful resolution and the concept of a nuclear Korean peninsula is unacceptable.

"We do need to see positive steps by North Korea to come back to the next round of the six-party talks to set a date to start the program of disarmament."

Rammell said the North Koreans appeared to be waiting on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November.

"I made clear to them my view that whoever wins the presidential election, whether it's President Bush or Senator Kerry, North Korea would be faced with broadly the same strategic policy from the United States," Rammell said.

"And this isn't just about the United States -- you know, all of us in the international community have got real concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons capability and we want it resolved."

Rammell also urged North Korea to admit the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights, Vikit Munthabhorn of Thailand, who was named by the U.N. commission for human rights last April.

"We have agreed on the principles of the visit," Rammell said.

"I'm not sure what the concrete objections to the international monitors are if one regards the fact that already international monitors have been allowed into the country.

"Even this year the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Chairman and the Vice-Chairman, were allowed to visit North Korea."

Su Hon declined to comment on the meeting with Rammell in New York.

Concerns were raised earlier this month that North Korea had tested a nuclear weapon when a 3 kilometer (2-mile) wide mushroom cloud was spotted near the Chinese border on satellite images by South Korea's Yonhap agency.

story.satellite.afp.jpg
Satellite image of where the blast apparently took place.

Two blasts took place on September 8 and 9, according to Yonhap, but the pictures were not seen until three days later.

North Korean officials claimed the explosion was part of a planned demolition of a mountain for the construction of a hydroelectric plant and agreed to a request by Rammell to allow an inspection of the site.

Diplomats from Germany, Britain, the Czech Republic, Mongolia, Poland, and Sweden traveled to Yanggang province on Thursday to verify North Korea's statement that the explosions were deliberate.

Rammell said they have not reached a "detailed conclusion" but were "fairly clear" that there was no evidence of a nuclear explosion.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- the United Nations' nuclear regulatory group, agreed the mushroom cloud did not appear to have been caused by a nuclear explosion, "but we cannot be 100 percent sure."

Pressed, ElBaradei said, "I am leaving the door open," that North Korea has tested a bomb.

"I think I would like to go there. As long as we are not there, I cannot exclude the possibility," he said.

North Korea expelled the two IAEA nuclear inspectors from the country in December 2002.

According to China's state-run news agency Xinhua, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Chinese President Hu Jintao last week that North Korea "sticks to the final nuclear-weapon-free goal and its basic position on seeking a peaceful solution through dialogue has not changed."

"The [North Korean] side will continue to take a patient and flexible manner and actively participate in the six-party talks process and make its own contributions to the progress of the talks," Xinhua quoted Kim as saying.

The six-way talks, which have been hosted by China, include the United States, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea.

Negotiations were tentatively scheduled to resume this month, but no meetings have been slated.

So far, three rounds of talks involving the six nations have failed to make significant inroads towards an end to the nuclear impasse.

'Long process'

Since the crisis flared up in October 2002, Pyongyang has said it will freeze its nuclear activities in return for economic and fuel aid, a security guarantee from the United States not to attack and other concessions.

But the United States has said that North Korea must take concrete steps toward dismantling its program before it would offer a security guarantee.

The United States proposes that North Korea end its nuclear program and allow international monitors to return in exchange for energy aid and a provisional American security guarantee.

Under the plan, North Korea would provide a full declaration of its nuclear activities and cease all of them; secure any fissile material that could be used to produce a nuclear bomb; disable any dangerous materials; and allow inspectors to return.

In exchange, the other countries in the talks would provide Pyongyang with badly needed heavy fuel oil, and the United States would offer a "provisional" guarantee not to attack North Korea.

Rammell and Su Hon agreed to meet again but did not set a date.

"I think it's the start of a long process to get North Korea out of isolation," Rammell said. "I'm not saying there won't be frustrations."


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