South Korea: North's nuke plans not an issue
South Korea's top diplomat said Thursday that North Korea's professed desire for a peaceful nuclear program shouldn't become an issue that overshadows disarmament talks, AP reported.
Meanwhile, a leading North Korea expert said an official there told him the country was researching how to create lightly enriched uranium ！ which could be used to fuel a reactor for non-weapons use, as opposed to the highly enriched uranium deployed in atomic bombs.
Amid the standoff, North Korean foreign minister met Thursday with two visiting U.S. lawmakers who said they would raise the nuclear issue. In a one-sentence dispatch, the North's Korean Central News Agency provided no details of the discussions between Paek Nam Sun and U.S. Reps. Tom Lantos and James Leach.
The North's insistence on being allowed to keep a "peaceful" nuclear program has emerged as an issue dividing the five countries ！ China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States ！ seeking to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons at international talks expected to reconvene during the week of Sept. 12 in Beijing.
The United States insists the communist nation's past record of weapons development proves it shouldn't be allowed any kind of nuclear program. But other countries, including South Korea, back the North's right in principle to have a peaceful nuclear program ！ after it disarms and complies fully with international norms.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon visited Washington last week to bridge the gap with U.S. officials, and said Thursday that "we came to a common understanding that the scope of nuclear dismantlement and peaceful use of nuclear energy should not overshadow the talks as if they are the only remaining problems."
The North must first "make it quite clear that they will dismantle all nuclear weapons and nuclear programs," Ban told a meeting of diplomats and journalists.
North Korea could be allowed a peaceful atomic program only after complete dismantlement of its nuclear programs and an agreement to return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and implement nuclear safeguards by the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ban said.
"We have not come to any agreement on this issue," he said.
In Beijing, Zhang Yan, director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's arms control department, said Thursday the North should have the right to develop a peaceful nuclear power program if it rejoins the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The arms talks went into recess last month after 13 days when envoys became deadlocked on reaching an agreement on basic principles of the North's disarmament. The talks were the first in 13 months, during which the North refused to attend, citing "hostile" U.S. policies.
Negotiators had agreed to resume discussions this week, but North Korea postponed its return by two weeks in anger over U.S.-South Korean military exercises and Washington's appointment of a special envoy on North Korean human rights.
Selig Harrison, who last visited Pyongyang in April, said the North's desire for a nuclear program to generate power wasn't a stalling tactic at the arms talks but a real concern by the regime to maintain energy independence. He said Ri Gun, a director-general in the North's Foreign Ministry, told him the North had a lab studying lightly enriched uranium.
Harrison said the uranium was intended to fuel light-water nuclear reactors being built in the North under a 1994 deal with Washington to abandon its weapons program. That plan has collapsed amid the latest nuclear dispute that erupted in late 2002 when U.S. officials said the North admitted having a secret uranium enrichment program.
North Korea "still would like to have light-water reactors as part of a diversified energy program," Harrison told The Associated Press.
Harrison, director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Center for International Policy, said comments last month by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that his country's former top nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, had passed nuclear technology and designs used to enrich uranium didn't prove American assertions of a highly enriched uranium program ！ which would require hundreds or thousands of centrifuges to be built with specialized parts not easily available.
"The assumption that they have tried to make or been able to make a weapons-grade uranium program in North Korea is very unfounded at this point," he said.