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N. Korea rejects China's nuclear proposal
Updated: 2005-09-16 21:10

North Korea rejected a Chinese proposal to end the stalemate over its atomic weapons agenda, repeating Friday it would not give up its peaceful nuclear program without concessions the United States is unlikely to grant.

North Korean spokesman Hyun Hak Bong, center, is escorted through a crowd of journalists after giving a briefing on his country's position in six-party talks on the nuclear issue in Beijing Thursday Sept. 15, 2005. Hyun said North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons without receiving a nuclear reactor for generating power. [AP]

Beijing proposed that North Korea retain the right to a peaceful nuclear program after abandoning its weapons, according to Russia's chief envoy to the six-nation talks. That proposal contains "compromise wording which could satisfy both sides," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev said, referring to the United States and North Korea.

But Pyongyang vowed anew not to give up its atomic program without getting concessions first.

"We will never give up our nuclear" program before the U.S. nuclear threat is removed from the Korean peninsula, North Korean spokesman Hyun Hak Bong told reporters, referring to Pyongyang's claims that it needs nuclear arms to defend itself.

"We will just do it our way. For us, we cannot stop our way of peaceful nuclear activities for one minute," Hyun said, reading from a written statement.

North Korea has demanded it be given a nuclear reactor for generating electricity before disarming. But Washington has insisted the North cannot be trusted with any nuclear program given its history of pursuing atomic bombs.

Hyun said Pyongyang would be willing to see the nuclear reactor co-managed and that it would be open to international inspections. It was unclear if those comments would make any difference to the U.S. side, which has branded the idea a "nonstarter."

All six countries at the talks are set to discuss the new draft with their capitals and reconvene Saturday afternoon to discuss their responses. The nations could either approve it or agree to take a recess, Alexeyev said. The talks also include Japan and South Korea.

"I keep my fingers crossed because still nothing is accepted," he said.

Earlier Friday, the chief U.S. envoy to the talks met again with his North Korean counterpart.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said at the start of the day that the six-nation talks were at a standstill over the North's demands for a reactor in exchange for its weapons programs. But he said later he had "good" discussions with the North's chief delegate, Kim Kye Gwan.

"At this point, I don't know where these will lead," Hill said of the meetings, speaking after a lunch with the South Korean and Japanese negotiators. "We are still in business."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was taking measures to stop the spread of nuclear technology regardless of what happens at the North Korea talks, through intelligence sharing and freezing of assets of those involved.

"We're not sitting still, you know, we're working on anti-proliferation measures that help to protect us," Rice told the New York Post in an interview released Thursday by the State Department. "So we're not wholly dependent on negotiations to get this done."

Hill also urged Beijing to seek to persuade longtime ally North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons without receiving a reactor.

The North has been offered economic aid, security guarantees from Washington and free electricity from South Korea in exchange for bowing to demands that it give up the weapons program.

In February, the North publicly claimed it had nuclear weapons, but it has not performed any known tests that would confirm it can make them. Experts have said they believe the North is capable of building about six bombs.

The United States has said giving a reactor to the North is out of the question, given the cost and the communist nation's history of deceit over its pursuit of nuclear technology to build weapons.

The North was promised two such reactors under a 1994 deal that fell apart in late 2002 after the latest nuclear crisis erupted. Light-water reactors are less easily diverted for weapons use.

Hill said he believed China, the North's last major ally and its leading supplier of food and energy aid, had a responsibility to exercise its influence over North Korea.

"I hope that China will feel a certain responsibility to try to convince the DPRK that the deal is there on the table and it only awaits the decision of the DPRK to take that deal," Hill said Friday morning, using the acronym for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

In New York, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun said any comprehensive settlement of the nuclear standoff would have to include the normalization of relations between North Korea and the United States.

Roh, who is attending a U.N. summit, said he was optimistic the crisis could be resolved, but he said it still makes him nervous.

"Every time I think about the North Korean nuclear weapons issue, I always pray to God," he said. "I ask you to do the same."

The North and South have continued reconciliation efforts while remaining technically at war. At high-level talks Friday between the two sides in Pyongyang, the Koreas pledged to work to ensure peace and reduce military tensions on the divided peninsula.

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