N. Korea ready to discuss uranium program

March 16, 2011 - 0:0

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea said Tuesday it told a visiting top Russian diplomat that Pyongyang does not oppose discussing its uranium enrichment activity in the stalled six-party nuclear talks once they resume.

The comments by an unidentified North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson improve the prospect for the resumption of the denuclearization-for-aid talks that were last held in late 2008.
North Korea told Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin that Pyongyang was ready to rejoin the talks ""without any precondition"" and hopes to work ""on the principle of simultaneous action,"" its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
In November last year, North Korea unveiled a uranium enrichment plant that could be used to make nuclear arms apart from its plutonium program. Pyongyang claims it only seeks to generate electricity.
South Korea and the U.S. have said they will seek a UN Security Council presidential statement to condemn the move before resuming the talks also involving the North, China, Japan and Russia.
China, North Korea's top communist ally, wants the uranium issue to be dealt with in the six-party talks. Russia, another key player in the talks, has been openly critical of North Korea's uranium enrichment activity.
The KCNA said Borodavkin insisted that the North ""take constructive measures"" such as a halt in nuclear and missile tests, allowing visits by monitors to a nuclear plant and the discussion of uranium enrichment within the framework of six-party talks.
North Korea ""expressed its stand that it can go out to the six-party talks without any precondition, it is not opposed to the discussion of the above-said issue at the six-party talks,"" the KCNA said, quoting an unidentified North Korean foreign ministry spokesperson.
Borodavkin, Russia's top envoy to the six-party talks, visited North Korea for four days ended Monday, according to the KCNA.
During his visit, Russia suggested the two Koreas could work with Moscow to link railways, gas pipelines and power lines among the three countries, saying that such an economic cooperation project could help ease tension on the Korean Peninsula, the KCNA said.
The North ""expressed support for the projects of the Russian side for tripartite economic cooperation and manifested its willingness to positively examine the proposal,"" the KCNA said.
The project, if pushed for, would fall in line with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak's election campaign pledge to link the three countries and boost energy and other economic cooperation.
South Korea's foreign ministry said Tuesday that its deputy nuclear envoy Cho Hyun-dong has left for Moscow to meet with Borodavkin to discuss the North Korean issue.
The relations between the two Koreas are at the worst point in at least a decade after the North bombarded a South Korean island last year, killing four people. No high-level negotiations have been held between the sides since Lee came to power in 2008 with a pledge to push the North to end its nuclear arms programs.
North Korea bolted from the six-party talks in 2009 when it drew world condemnation for its long-range rocket launch, seen as a missile test in essence. The country has since shown a willingness to return to the talks, pledging to work toward denuclearization.
South Korea, Japan and the U.S. demand the North first show through action its guarantee that it will not relapse into provocative behavior or resume nuclear arms development.
In an earlier KCNA report Tuesday, an unnamed North Korean representative to the disarmament talks in Switzerland said last week that his ""nuclear-armed"" country would work toward denuclearization only if nuclear threats against it are irreversibly removed.
""We believe it is an urgent priority to produce an international legal apparatus that thoroughly bans the use and threat of nuclear arms,"" the envoy was quoted as saying, adding that Pyongyang maintains the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
North Korea has long claimed that it has no choice but to develop nuclear arms because of persisting threats of a nuclear invasion by the U.S, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.
The two sides remain technically at war with each other after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.
Analysts believe the North is increasingly pressured into making concessions as its food shortages deepen. They say North Korea also needs to improve its relations with the outside world in an effort to create a setting favorable to its hereditary power succession.