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US: N.Korea ready to restart nuke talks
Updated: 2005-09-03 14:08

BEIJING - Two US lawmakers who visited North Korea said Saturday that Pyongyang appears ready to return to disarmament talks as promised the week of Sept. 12, but still wants a nuclear reactor — a key sticking point.

Giant North Korean flag flies over the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. The United States, Japan and South Korea played down North Korea's test-firing of a short-range missile off its east coast, saying it was not related to Pyongyang's drive for nuclear weaponsNo caption. [AFP]

North Korean officials did not name a date, "but there was strong confidence that this would go forth on a timely basis, as has been indicated," said U.S. Rep. James Leach, R-Iowa, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. He traveled to the North this week with U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif.

North Korea said earlier it would return to six-nation talks the week of Sept. 12 following a postponement that it blamed on U.S.-South Korean military exercises and Washington's appointment of a human rights envoy to monitor the North. The talks also include South Korea, host China, Japan and Russia.

Leach said North Korean officials affirmed their desire for a light-water nuclear reactor as part of a peaceful nuclear program, an issue that deadlocked the last session of talks in August.

The North says it should be allowed to operate a peaceful nuclear program for power generation. But Washington has expressed skepticism that the North can be trusted with nuclear technology.

"Clearly the North Korean desire is for a light-water reactor, and the North Korean desire is to retain a peaceful nuclear program," Leach said at a news conference.

Leach and Lantos, the senior Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said they had about 25 hours of meetings with North Korean officials during their five-day visit.

They met with Kim Gye Gwan, the chief North Korean nuclear envoy; Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun and other government and military officials, according to a statement released by their delegation.

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