N. Korea urges resumption of nuclear talks 'without preconditions'

By Kim Deok-hyun

BEIJING, Sept. 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's chief nuclear envoy called Tuesday for an early resumption of the long-stalled six-party talks on the North's nuclear program "without preconditions," a demand that has been rebutted by South Korea and the United States.

"We are ready to enter the six-party talks without preconditions," the North's First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan told a multilateral forum organized by China's foreign ministry.

Kim said "preconditions" set by South Korea and the United States, however, "are in violation of the spirit of the Sept. 19 Joint Statement," referring to a landmark agreement reached in 2005 at the six-party talks.

Under the 2005 agreement, North Korea pledged to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for a U.S. promise not to attack or invade it and to work toward normalized ties.

The one-day forum has been arranged by China to mark the 10th anniversary of the launching of the six-party talks and the eighth anniversary of the 2005 agreement. The off-and-on forum that involves the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Japan and Russia has been stalled since late 2008.

Titled "Retrospects and Outlooks: A Decade of the Six-Party Talks," the meeting comes amid renewed efforts by China to revive the six-party channel, but South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have shown a cool response to it in the absence of a clear North Korean willingness to disarm.

"Attaching preconditions to our offer of dialogue would cause mistrust," Kim said, urging South Korea, the U.S. and Japan to re-start the six-party process "before it is too late."

After stoking tensions on the Korean Peninsula by conducting its third nuclear test in February, North Korea has recently reached out to South Korea and the U.S. for dialogue on its nuclear programs.

Seoul and Washington maintain that they will not sit with North Korea at the negotiating table unless the communist country demonstrates its seriousness about denuclearization through concrete actions.

"The root cause of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula is hostile relations with the United States, but the hostile relations become worse and discussions on peace treaty," Kim said.

"After all, the process of denuclearization was reversed and prompted us not to be unilaterally tied to our commitment," Kim said, apparently blaming the U.S. for the stalemate in the six-party talks.

Reports from Washington said last week that North Korea appears to have restarted a plutonium-producing reactor in Yongbyon, a move that may give the country more fissile fuel to make bombs.

The Soviet-built five-megawatt reactor has long been at the center of international focus as it is believed to have been used by North Korea to obtain weapons-grade plutonium to make bombs in the 1990s and 2000s.

Without showing any clear sign of North Korea moving to give up its nuclear ambition, Kim emphasized several times that his country is committed to make the Korean Peninsula nuclear-free.

"Denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula is a dying wish of our late leaders and our country's policy goal," Kim said. "We support the six-party talks, and we are willing to resume dialogue under the framework of the six-party talks, including a small-scale dialogue."

Kim's remarks echoed a proposal reportedly made by the North's top military official, Vice Marshal Choe Ryong-hae, to hold smaller "four-party talks" with South Korea, China and the United States within the framework of the six-way forum.

A diplomatic source told Yonhap News Agency last month that Choe had proposed the "four-party talks" when he visited China in May as a special envoy of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The proposal was met with skepticism in Seoul and Washington.

Qu Xing, president of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) who attended the closed-door forum, told reporters after the forum that there were "differences" over ways to resume the six-party talks.

"But, I want to emphasize that differences were shown with a very amicable atmosphere as well as constructive atmosphere," he said.

North Korea's chief delegate to the six-party talks, Ri Yong-ho, reiterated his country's willingness to discuss "all possible things" if the six-party talks resume, Qu said.

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