|Wednesday, 15 January 2003|
North Korea offers nuclear inspections in exchange for better ties with US
North Korea's ambassador to Moscow on Monday floated the idea of allowing nuclear inspectors into the closed country under a proposed new US-North Korean monitoring system if Washington agreed to improve relations with Pyongyang.
Pak Ui Chun told Russian reporters that Pyongyang may be ready to negotiate with Washington in a bid to set up a new body -- whose mechanism he failed to detail -- that would not be under the aegis of the United Nations.
"If the United States renounces its hostile policies and nuclear threats against North Korea, then we do not exclude the possibility of proving -- through separate checks conducted between the United States and North Korea -- that we are not producing nuclear weapons," ITAR-TASS quoted Pak as saying.
Pak said North Korea "was ready to prove" that it was not developing a clandestine nuclear weapons program, but added it would only let in inspectors if Pyongyang felt that it was being treated as an equal partner by the West.
The Stalinist state "does not intend to produce nuclear weapons, and the nuclear program is limited to civilian use," he stressed.
Pyongyang's envoy to Russia -- one of the few countries to have access to reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il -- has on previous occasions aired new approaches for resolving the spiraling conflict with Washington.
But Pak angrily lashed out at allegations by James Kelly, the senior Bush administration official for Asia, which provoked the latest crisis with his announcement that Pyongyang had admitted to developing nuclear weapons.
"I do not very much believe the pronouncements made by this emissary," ITAR-TASS quoted Pak as saying.
"It is Kelly who is responsible for the heightening of tensions around North Korea, since he was the one who posed the hypothesis, as if Pyongyang is secretly developing a nuclear program."
But softening his message, Pak suggested that North Korea might also reconsider its decision to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) should Washington alter its policy toward Pyongyang.
"This question will be decided depending on the situation," Pak was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency in reply to a question of whether Pyongyang might rejoin the key non-proliferation agreement.
His comments confirm a string of hints from other North Korean officials that Pyongyang was willing to step away from the brink of all-out confrontation with the United States should Washington open up official dialogue.
Since December, North Korea has prepared to reactivate its mothballed Yongbyon nuclear plant, expelled UN monitors and withdrawn from the NPT.
Pyongyang has further suggested it may end a moratorium on long-range missile tests.
Pak's comments came as Kelly launched a week of diplomacy aimed at easing the crisis in Seoul, where he also hinted of an easing in Washington's policy by suggesting that Pyongyang would be rewarded if it backed down in the showdown.
"Once we can get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the US, with private investors and other countries, to help North Korea in the energy area," said Kelly.
There was no indication from Pak of what sort of US-North Korean inspections program Pyongyang might have in mind.
However, the envoy remained firm in his condemnation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors who were expelled from North Korea on December 31.
"The United States must stop trying to use the IAEA as an instrument for pressuring North Korea," the North Korean envoy said.
Meanwhile, Russia's nuclear energy minister said late Monday Moscow had no evidence that Pyongyong was developing nuclear weapons.
"If such technologies were being developed, it would show," the Russian news agencies quoted Alexander Rumyantsev as saying.
Rumyantsev added Moscow could build a civilian nuclear power plant in North Korea if Pyongyong asked it to do so.
"We can build a (plant) in North Korea in seven years if we are asked to," Rumyantsev said.
Produced by Lake House