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Kim says NKorea willing for nuclear talks in July: SKorean official

AFP | June 17, 2005

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il said Friday the communist country was willing to return to nuclear disarmament talks in July if the United States "recognizes and respects" his country.

North Korea "could rejoin six-party talks as early as July if the US recognizes and respects the country as a (dialogue) partner," Kim was quoted as saying by South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young.

Kim, however, said his country needs "further consultations with the United States," Chung said after returning from talks with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang.

Chung quoted Kim as denying North Korea had ever said it would abandon the six-party disarmament forum, which has been stalled for a year.

The North Korean leader also reaffirmed that an inter-Korean agreement on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula was "still valid," calling it "last will" of his father, Kim Il-Sung, who founded the communist country and died in 1994, Chung said.

The South Korean minister said he had "in-depth" discussions with Kim on politics, economy and humanitarian aid.

He also delivered a verbal message from South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun on the disarmament talks and North Korea's nuclear weapons drive.

South Korean officials said earlier that they would make the best use of Chung's visit to Pyongyang to urge the Stalinist country to return to six-party talks.

It was the first time the communist dictator has received a South Korean government official since April 2002 when he held talks with Lim Dong-Won, special envoy of then-president Kim Dae-Jung.

Pyongyang maintains it is striving for a peaceful resolution of the standoff through diplomatic means and that it is willing to return to the six-party dialogue, involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, at some unspecified future date.

But North Korea has demanded the United States drop its "hostile" policy to the Stalinist state as a precondition to returning to dialogue that has been in limbo for a year.

North Korea on February 10 declared it had nuclear weapons. US officials have expressed concern it could conduct a nuclear test to take the standoff to a new level of crisis.

In the light of that statement, observers said it was dificult to interpret Kim's remarks that the inter-Korean agreement on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula was still valid.

South and North Korea agreed in 1992 to keep the Korean peninsula free from nuclear weapons.

The face-to-face meeting between Kim and Chung lasted for 150 minutes, followed by a 140-minute lunch with Chung and his entourage, South Korean officials said.

Washington has indicated recently time may be running out on North Korea to return to the talks and that it was exploring other options to handle the standoff.

However, the top US negotiator on North Korea said here Thursday no deadline had been set for Pyongyang's return.

"We are talking about a lot of different steps. But we still believe in the six-party process," said Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs.

However, on Thursday, North Korea's number two leader Kim Yong-Nam said Washington had yet to change its policy of hostility.

Kim Yong-Nam also complained the United States did not recognize the communist regime when Chung briefed him on the outcome of the recent South Korea-US summit.

At the summit last week, Bush once again said Washington had no intention of attacking North Korea and that Pyongyang stood to gain significant economic and diplomatic benefits from ending its nuclear programs.

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