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Wednesday, 6 November, 2002, 10:33 GMT
Hopes raised for N Korea nuclear accord
North Korean Taepodong 1 missile
The North has threatened to renew missile tests
A former US ambassador to Seoul says that a senior North Korean official has told him a nuclear accord with the United States is "hanging by a thread" but is not null and void.


I think they want the US to give them some assurance that we don't want to blow them out of the water

US diplomat Donald Gregg
The 1994 accord has been in doubt since Washington said North Korea had admitted in October to having a nuclear weapons programme.

But Donald Gregg, who has just returned from a private trip to Pyongyang, said he interpreted comments from North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju as evidence the hermit state "still supported" the agreement.

Under the accord, North Korea said it would suspend its suspected nuclear weapons programme in return for two foreign-built nuclear reactors and fuel oil until they were built.

In a hint that the US hopes the accord can be salvaged, the November shipment of fuel oil has begun to be loaded onto a ship in Singapore.

The US claim that North Korea had broken the deal has sent shock waves across Japan and South Korea, which had been hoping to improve ties with the North.

Mr Gregg's comments come a day after North Korea threatened to reconsider its moratorium on missile tests if talks on normalising diplomatic relations with Japan fail to make progress.

Seeking reassurance

Mr Gregg, who now heads the Korea Society in New York, said that during "frank and far-reaching" talks in Pyongyang he detected positive signals coming from North Korea.

He said the North Koreans seemed to "truly fear a US attack" and were looking for assurances - through a non-aggression pact - that Washington did not intend any military strike.

"I think they want the US to give them some assurance that we don't want to blow them out of the water," he said.

He said that Pyongyang was coy regarding its alleged weapons programme.

"The North Koreans said they adopted an NCND - neither confirm nor deny - policy toward the highly enriched uranium issue, although some comments that we heard were very close to admission that they had such a programme under way."

'Keep talking'

Mr Gregg said he believed further dialogue between officials from the United States and North Korea, rather than pressure alone, was the only way out of the current stalemate.

North Korea has repeatedly called for talks with the US on the nuclear issue, but the White House on Sunday rejected any discussion until Pyongyang takes action to shut down the programme.

Mr Gregg's comments come as the US is trying to co-ordinate regional support for its efforts to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

US Under-Secretary of Defence Douglas Feith is currently in South Korea for talks with senior government officials about security issues on the peninsula.

Japan has tried to persuade North Korea to give assurances that it will not pursue a nuclear programme.

But North Korea has said it will not even discuss the issue until relations with Japan have been normalised.

Tokyo for its part says security issues and the permanent repatriation of five Japanese kidnapped by North Korea in 1978 are a precursor to forging ties.


  • Map shows range of Taepodong 1 missile, flown over Japan in 1998
  • Evidence that North Korea ready to flight test Taepodong 2 with range of up to 8,000 km (could reach western US)


  • Nuclear tensions

    Inside North Korea

    Divided peninsula

    TALKING POINT
    See also:

    04 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
    31 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    30 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    23 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    25 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
    21 Oct 02 | Americas
    18 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
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