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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 14:23 GMT
N Korea makes nuclear offer
Yongbyon nuclear plant
The US delegation may visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex
North Korea has offered to suspend testing and producing nuclear weapons and freeze its nuclear industry, as a way to end the stand off with the US.

In a statement released by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea called its offer a "bold concession".

It comes as US experts travelled to the North, where they may visit the Yongbyon complex at the centre of the crisis over the North's nuclear aims.

Six-country talks aimed at defusing the crisis may not resume until next month.

Two groups of US experts travelled to Pyongyang on Tuesday, but they are unofficial and the US government has said they are not acting on behalf of the administration.

One of the groups is led by John W Lewis, a professor of international relations at Stanford University. It is composed of academics and the nuclear scientist Sig Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the atomic bomb was first developed.

The other is led by US congressional aides Keith Luse and Frank Jannuzi, who met US embassy officials in the Chinese capital before leaving Pyongyang.

YONGBYON
Site of several nuclear facilities, 100km north of Pyongyang
Includes 5MWt experimental nuclear reactor and fuel rod storage facility
North Korea says it has reprocessed plutonium from 8,000 spent fuel rods at site
It is thought the Americans will remain in North Korea until Saturday.

If they are allowed to visit Yongbyon, they would become the first outsiders to see the plant since UN inspectors were forced to leave North Korea a year ago.

Talks

Pyongyang has in the past offered to freeze its nuclear programme in return for a non-aggression pact with the United States and other diplomatic and economic concessions.

But the United States has said that it wants North Korea to begin dismantling its nuclear programme before it gives any concessions.

Tuesday's statement by North Korea's state-run KCNA news agency appeared to offer only a "freeze" on nuclear activities.

But it said the offer was a starting point for the proposed resumption of six-country talks.

"The DPRK (North Korea) is set to refrain from test and production of nuclear weapons and stop even operating nuclear power industry for a peaceful purpose as first-phase measures of the package solution," the statement said.

Talks had been due to resume this month but seasonal holidays and the differences between Washington and Pyongyang mean February is now more likely.

As well as the US and North Korea, the discussions involve South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

The last round of negotiations, held in Beijing in August, ended without progress.

Bargaining

North Korea and the US have been locked in a stand-off over the nuclear issue for over a year.

Last year the North claimed to have finished reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods being stored at Yongbyon, enough to help it build up to six more nuclear weapons.

Foreign intelligence agencies have been sceptical about the claims, but have been unable to check them.

Some analysts see the North's claims as bargaining counters, as it seeks to negotiate diplomatic recognition and economic aid from the US.

The Bush administration withdrew support for a previous proposed congressional visit to North Korea in October because it said the timing was not appropriate. The Congressmen had also been promised a tour of Yongbyon.



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