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Last Updated: Friday, 1 August, 2003, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Why N Korea wants nuclear talks

By Barnaby Mason
BBC diplomatic correspondent

North Korea has decided it is in favour of six-nation talks to resolve the confrontation with the United States over its nuclear weapons programme.

It is a potentially significant move. North Korea's standard line has been that its quarrel is with the US and it is up to the two of them to settle it.

But the North Koreans have been under heavy pressure from their traditional allies: communist China and no-longer-communist Russia.

Spent nuclear fuel rods at Yongbyon facility in North Korea
North Korea could be close to mass producing nuclear weapons
Alarmed by the worsening crisis, and partly to head off action in the Security Council, the Chinese have been exerting themselves.

They hosted three-way talks with North Korea and the US in April and have been trying to arrange something more ambitious.

Non-aggression pact

Washington's idea was that another three-sided meeting would be quickly expanded to include South Korea and Japan - and ultimately Russia.

It seems the North Koreans insisted on having Russia at the table, perhaps in the belief that it and China would support them against the other three.

Talks would involve:
North Korea
United States
South Korea

At any rate, the statement put out in Moscow emphasises Russia's participation.

But it also says a political settlement should be based on the non-nuclear status of the Korean peninsula, and on security for the states located there.

That gives a hint of the shape of the talks, if they happen.

Five of the six states involved want North Korea to give up any nuclear weapons, though they differ on what if anything it should be given in return.

And for the North Koreans, security means a cast-iron guarantee by the US that it will not attack them - a non-aggression pact.

The Bush administration has refused to rule out military action, however impractical it may seem, given the dangers to South Korea.


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