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U.S. dismisses N.Korea demands for nuclear energy
Updated: 2005-09-14 21:58

The top U.S. delegate at six-party talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions dismissed its demands to be allowed a civilian atomic energy program on Wednesday, the second day of negotiations.

Christopher Hill instead urged the North to focus on a draft joint statement, which sets out the principle of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and contains an offer from South Korea to provide conventional energy to its impoverished neighbor.

"I think they should focus on what is on the table," Hill told reporters after lunch with South Korea's chief negotiator, Song Min-soon.

"One of the most important elements on the table is ... a very significant conventional energy proposal, which would get for the DPRK electricity at a very early date," he said, adding that there were no plans for a light-water reactor in the draft.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, is North Korea's official name.

The six countries, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas, agree in principle to denuclearizing the divided Korean peninsula. But Pyongyang and Washington, the main protagonists, are at odds over how to reach that goal.

The United States, which once described North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and pre-war Iraq, insists that Pyongyang must dismantle all nuclear programs verifiably and irreversibly, after which it could expect energy aid and security guarantees.

The North wants aid and guarantees first and the right to keep civilian programs.

U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday endorsed Iran's right to civilian nuclear energy, saying that right could be supported only if it did not gain expertise or materials to build an atomic weapon.

In July, Washington also promised India cooperation in developing a peaceful atomic energy program, despite earlier slapping sanctions on New Delhi for conducting nuclear tests.

In Beijing, the six delegations gathered at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on Tuesday to reopen the fourth round of open-ended talks that started in late July and lasted 13 days before breaking for a recess. The first round began in 2003.

On Wednesday, the delegates held working group and bilateral meetings, including a one-on-one meeting between the United States and North Korea, Xinhua news agency said.


South Korea has offered to supply the North with 2,000 megawatts of electricity -- roughly equivalent to the North's total power output -- if it scraps its nuclear plans, but Song also said Seoul would not be opposed in principle to Pyongyang having a civilian atomic energy program in future.

"When they complete the dismantlement of their nuclear weapons and nuclear programs ... they can have their right to peaceful use of nuclear energy," Song told reporters.

Pyongyang has voiced concern over the South's energy offer, fearing electricity could be held hostage for political reasons.

Failure to reach an accord in Beijing could prompt Washington to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council and press for sanctions. China opposes such a move, and North Korea has said sanctions would be tantamount to war.

Despite the impasse, Washington said it hoped a resolution could be reached in a matter of days and Song said a joint statement, elusive at all previous rounds of talks, might be agreed with "minimum revisions."

The crisis erupted in October 2002 when Washington said Pyongyang had admitted to a secret program to enrich uranium, used to make nuclear weapons, in violation of a 1994 agreement.

North Korea denied the charge at the time, and responded by throwing out U.N. weapons inspectors at the end of 2002 and withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty in January 2003.

Last February, the North said it had nuclear bombs. It has also reactivated a mothballed plutonium plant near its capital.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young told North Korean officials at a bilateral meeting in Pyongyang that North Korea needed to resolve the crisis quickly.

"We need to seize this historic opportunity," Chung was quoted as saying in pool reports of the six-party talks. "None of us will benefit by having this process drag on."

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