August 25, 2011 in Nation/World

N. Korea offers halt to tests

Move is ‘first step’ to talks, U.S. says
Mansur Mirovalev Associated Press
Associated Press photo

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, second right, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, second left, walk during a meeting at a military garrison outside Ulan-Ude in eastern Siberia on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

Talks on hold since 2008

Six-sided nuclear talks involving North Korea and the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been stalled since December 2008. The North’s launching of a long-range rocket in April 2009 drew widespread international sanctions and condemnation, and an angry North Korea retaliated by pulling out of the talks. But faced with deepening sanctions and economic trouble, North Korea has pushed to restart them.

MOSCOW – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il says his country is ready to impose a nuclear test and production moratorium if international talks on its atomic program resume, in Pyongyang’s latest effort to restart long-stalled, aid-for-disarmament talks.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Kim’s reported gesture at a summit Wednesday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will satisfy the most skeptical of the five other nations at talks meant to end the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions – the United States, South Korea and Japan.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that Kim Jong Il’s reported offer to refrain from nuclear and missile tests was “a welcome first step” but not enough to restart six-party disarmament talks.

Kim, at the summit in eastern Siberia, reportedly made no mention of an issue that lies at the heart of negotiators’ worries: North Korea’s recently revealed uranium enrichment program.

Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying that Kim expressed readiness to return to the nuclear talks without preconditions, and, “in the course of the talks, North Korea will be ready to resolve the question of imposing a moratorium on tests and production of nuclear missile weapons.”

Nuland said that North Korea’s disclosure of a uranium enrichment facility last November “remains a matter of serious concern” that violates U.N. resolutions and commitments Pyongyang had made on denuclearization in 2005.

“We will not go back to six-party talks until North Koreans are prepared to meet all of the commitments that we’ve all laid out,” Nuland told a news conference in Washington.

The North promised to freeze its long-range missile tests in 1999, but has since routinely tested short-range missiles and launched a long-range rocket in April 2009. It has also conducted two nuclear tests, most recently in 2009.

North Korea is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least six atomic bombs and last November it revealed a uranium enrichment program. North Korea is believed to be working toward mounting a bomb on a long-range missile.

Kim and Medvedev met at the hotel of a military garrison near the city of Ulan-Ude in Buryatia, a predominantly Buddhist province near Lake Baikal. It is Kim’s first trip to Russia since 2002.

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