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North Korea's push for nuclear power plants still a sticking point
Updated: 2005-09-05 11:28

North Korea still wants to retain its nuclear power plants, a major sticking point in six-way nuclear disarmament talks, a US Congressman said after a visit to the country.

James Leach, a Republican from Iowa who traveled to Pyongyang last week, said the issue would be time-consuming as the United States still distrusts North Korea's nuclear activities.

"North Korea clearly at this time wants to retain the right to have nuclear programs of one type or another," Leach said during a press conference in Seoul.

Citing a track record of Pyongyang's violations of nuclear safeguards, Washington has rejected the North Korean demand at the latest six-party talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

"This issue of trust is very large. It will take some time to unfold," Leach, who was on a four-day visit to North Korea with California Democrat Tom Lantos until Saturday, said.

Leach said he had a series of meetings with senior Pyongyang officials, including chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan who he described as a "forthright and open" figure during the visit.

Kim made it clear that North Koreans are entitled to retain light water nuclear reactors for electricity, whose construction has been suspended for years amid the nuclear standoff.

The reactors should have been built by a US-led consortium to replace North Korea's existing graphite-moderated reactors, which can produce weapons-grade plutonium, under the defunct 1994 nuclear agreement.

The nuclear standoff flared up in 2002 with the United States accusing North Korea of developing a secret nuclear weapons plan based on highly-enriched uranium.

Both Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China have since held talks to disarm North Korea in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits and security guarantees.

A fourth round of talks ended without tangible accords early August.

The talks, which should have resumed in the week of August 29, are expected to restart in the week beginning September 12, following a delay demanded by North Korea.

"If one is an optimist, one might be very hopeful that the principles (on how to resolve the nuclear issue) would be agreed upon at the very next round of talks," Leach said on Sunday.

"I do not rule out optimism."

Lantos also expressed cautious optimism Saturday.

"We are optimistic, but we are optimistic in a cautious fashion," he told a briefing upon arrival in Beijing from North Korea.

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