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N Korea urges US nuclear talks

A student passes a diagram of North Korean missile types at a South Korean observation post in Paju, 19 June
North Korea is thought to have thousands of missiles

North Korea has said it is ready for direct talks with the US on rolling back its nuclear programme but will "go its own way" if Washington refuses.

North Korea's foreign ministry said wider talks including North Korea's neighbours were possible depending on any direct negotiations with the US.

Pyongyang pulled out of the long-running six-party nuclear disarmament talks earlier this year.

In May, the North conducted an underground nuclear test.

Strong hint

"The conclusion we have reached is that the direct parties, which are the North and the United States, must first sit down and find a rational solution," the foreign ministry spokesman said in comments reported by the official KCNA news agency.

NORTH KOREA 2009 TESTS
12 Oct - Five short-range missiles fired
4 July - Seven suspected ballistic missiles fired
2 July - Four short-range cruise missiles launched
25 May - Second underground nuclear test brings new UN sanctions
25/26 May - Series of short-range rockets fired
5 April - N Korea says long-range rocket was satellite launch

"Now that we have shown the generosity of stating the position that we would be willing to talk to the United States and hold multilateral talks including the six-way talks, it is time for the United States to make a decision," the spokesman said.

"If the US is not ready to sit at a negotiating table with the [North], it will go its own way."

The latest comments offer the strongest hint yet that dialogue could resume.

Last month, leader Kim Jong-il said he might consider a return to the nuclear talks he had previously declared dead - after direct talks with Washington.

But the state department says it has not yet decided whether to accept Pyongyang's invitation for a visit by the US special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth.

The six-party talks include the two Koreas, the US, Japan, China and Russia.

Envoy

The foreign ministry statement came as North Korea's second-ranking nuclear envoy, Ri Gun, ended a rare visit to the US meeting academics and former officials.

The US contacts said after these meetings that the North appeared to be more open to resuming the six-way talks on its nuclear programme.

Mr Ri held talks in New York with Sung Kim, the US special envoy on the North's nuclear disarmament. They also met later on the sidelines of a California forum.

In 2007, North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear facilities, as a first step towards their dismantlement, in exchange for fuel aid and political concessions.

But after receiving much of the aid, the North abandoned the process earlier this year and conducted a second nuclear test.

This was followed by warnings that it was weaponising its plutonium stocks and had begun to enrich uranium - which would provide a second way to build nuclear weapons.

May's nuclear test prompted a round of UN sanctions, which some analysts say has prompted Pyongyang's recent move to return to the negotiating table.

North Korea has long demanded direct talks with the US, saying they were the only way to end resolve the nuclear stand-off.

The North's foreign ministry spokesman said if the two countries "end the hostile relationship and build trust, there will be a meaningful step towards the denuclearising of the Korean peninsula".

But he added: "If the United States is not ready to sit down face-to-face with us for talks, we cannot but go on our own way."



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