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Caution greets N. Korea nuke offer

A North Korean soldier stands guard.
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North Korea is offering a deal that could halt its nuclear program in return for concessions from Washington. CNN's David Ensor explains. (January 6)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea's offer to halt its nuclear activities has been greeted with cautious optimism, with suggestions the move is a bargaining ploy ahead of a new round of multinational talks on the issue.

North Korea on Tuesday said it would stop testing and producing nuclear weapons, as well as cease operating its nuclear power industry, according to the official North Korean state news service (KCNA).

Pyongyang has called its offer "one more bold concession" aimed at resolving the standoff over its nuclear weapons programs.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell responded by describing the move as a "positive statement" that could lead to a new round of talks.

"They, in effect, said they won't test, and they implied that they would give up all aspects of their nuclear program, not just a weapons program," Powell said.

"And this is an interesting step on their part, positive step, and we hope that it will allow us to move more rapidly toward six-party framework talks."

In the past, the United States has shot down similar proposals, saying it wants North Korea to begin dismantling its nuclear program, not just freeze it.

But the view that Pyongyang's offer is "positive" may not be universal -- even within the Bush Administration.

The White House spokesman declined repeated opportunities to match Secretary Powell's comment, CNN's David Ensor reports.

South Korea said Wednesday that North Korea's offer would help "create atmosphere" to open a fresh round of talks.

"We positively evaluate the North Korean statement because it stated more specifically what measures it was willing to take, and reconfirmed once again its willing to resolve the issue through dialogue," Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said in a regular briefing, the Associated Press reports.

Victor Cha, from Georgetown University, said the Bush administration was rightfully wary of the North's initiative.

"They look like bold concessions, but the fact that these statements are made prior to what people hope will be the start of another round of talks really tries to shift the playing advantage, if you will to the North Koreans," Cha told CNN.

"They appear to be more interested than the United States. I think the administration is wary of that bargaining ploy because they've seen North Korea do it many times before."

The North Korean offer also comes with strings attached.

In exchange for freezing its nuclear program, North Korea wants the United States to:

• Take Pyongyang off its terrorism list;

• Lift political, economic and military sanctions;

• Supply heavy oil, power and other energy resources.

The nuclear dispute flared October 2002, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.

Representatives of six nations -- the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas -- held talks in Beijing in August over Pyongyang's nuclear program.

But they failed to set a date for another round of talks. February appears to be the soonest another round of talks could be held.

In the months since the initial talks, North Korea has indicated it could consider U.S. President George W. Bush's offer of written security guarantees to end tensions over its nuclear weapons development.

North Korea previously insisted it needed a formal nonaggression treaty signed by the U.S. before it would back away from its nuclear program.

"This stance is prompted by the expectation that the DPRK and the U.S. can build confidence and lay a foundation of co-existence in the course of solving issues one after another on the principle of simultaneous actions," the latest statement said.

Washington has labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and Iran, and is demanding the communist state shut down its nuclear program immediately.

Meanwhile, a private U.S. delegation that included congressional aides, former U.S. officials and an Asia scholar has flown to North Korea hoping to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex at the heart of the country's nuclear program.

"They are going to North Korea independent of the administration," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

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