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N.Korea considering nuclear talks return - analysts
Updated: 2005-05-23 18:34

SEOUL - North Korea's confirmation that its diplomats met U.S. officials is a sign Pyongyang may consider a return to stalled six-country talks on ending its nuclear arms development, analysts said on Monday.

North Korea said on Sunday it had spoken with the United States on May 13 at the United Nations and would respond at "an appropriate time" to U.S. efforts to revive multilateral talks.

It was unclear whether its response would include a decision on returning to the talks. It has been almost a year since the last round was held in June 2004, and the North's anti-U.S. rhetoric has grown more strident in recent weeks.

Concern has grown among regional powers in recent weeks that North Korea might test a nuclear weapon after it declared in February it had joined the nuclear weapons club.

"North Korea had upped the ante," said Koh Yu-hwan, a leading North Korea expert at Dongguk University in Seoul. "But through these contacts, it appears to be shifting to dialogue mode from crisis mode."

A separate bilateral meeting between South and North Korea last week brought no progress on restarting the six-way talks, despite Seoul's hope to use the rare meeting to coax the North back to the table. But South Korean officials say they had made their displeasure clear to the North.

The chief U.S. negotiator to the talks that also include North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia has also been shuttling between capitals, trying to bring pressure on North Korea to return to dialogue.

Three North Korean cargo ships began loading fertilizer on Monday in South Korea, the first time in more than two decades that vessels from North Korea have visited a Southern port.

Seoul hopes the agricultural aid will help lead Pyongyang back to the table, while critics say it rewards North Korea despite its bad behavior.

"It may be indicative of signs that North Korea may have begun considering coming back to the talks, but it will be on North Korea's conditions," said Lee Dong-bok, senior associate in Seoul at the CSIS think tank, referring to the North's statement.


Lee does not believe North Korea will accept a negotiated settlement to give up its nuclear programs, but he thinks the North may be feeling the diplomatic heat.

"There has been enough pressure for North Korea to find itself deprived of any more rationale to stay away from coming back to the talks," Lee said.

Lee said Sunday's statement from a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman was clouded in ambiguity.

The North Korean spokesman said the government stuck to its hope that any nuclear talks would be "successful," according to the official KCNA news agency.

But the spokesman added that "disturbing outbursts" from the United States created confusion over Washington's real stand.

"The DPRK remains unchanged in its stand to stick to the goal for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula and seek a peaceful negotiated solution to the nuclear issue," said the unidentified Foreign Ministry official. DPRK is short for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Washington said last week that State Department officials had met North Korean diplomats at the United Nations in New York and urged the North to return to the talks.

Washington had said it recognized the North as a sovereign state and would not attack, KCNA quoted the official as saying.

The U.N. meeting, between a key U.S. official involved in the six-party talks and North Korean envoys, signaled a shift in policy emphasis by Washington, which has been reluctant to deal separately with the North outside of the multilateral forum.

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