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US welcomes DPRK offer on nuclear power program
( 2004-01-07 08:42) (Agencies)

The United States said on Tuesday a DPRK offer to freeze its nuclear power industry was a positive step that it hoped would lead to a fresh round of six-way talks on ending Pyongyang's suspected atomic weapons programs.

DPRK's explicit offer to suspend its nuclear power program as well as to refrain from testing or making nuclear weapons went further than a Dec. 9 statement in which Pyongyang generally offered to freeze its "nuclear activities."

Jack Pritchard, second left, a former U.S. State Department official, and John W. Lewis, center, professor emeritus of international relations at Standford University, arrive at Sun An Airport in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2004.  [AP]
Pyongyang made the offer as a private U.S. delegation that included congressional aides, former U.S. officials and an Asia scholar flew to DPRK hoping to visit the Yongbyon nuclear complex at the heart of the country's nuclear program.

Washington hopes to persuade Pyongyang to accept the total, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its suspected nuclear arms program through six-way talks among U.S., Chinese, North and South Korean, Japanese and Russian officials.

With prospects for talks in January appearing to recede, Pyongyang called on Washington to accept an offer to freeze its nuclear arms program, throwing in for the first time the "bold concession" of offering to suspend nuclear power generation.

U.S. Secretary of State Powell told reporters he believed all six nations wanted to return to the table after their August talks in Beijing ended inconclusively and said he was encouraged by the latest statement released by DPRK's official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).

The KCNA statement said: "The DPRK is set to refrain from test and production of nuclear weapons and stop even operating nuclear power industry for a peaceful purpose as first-phase measures of the package solution." DPRK is the abbreviation of North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"It was an interesting statement. It was a positive statement. They in effect said they won't test and they implied that they would give up all aspects of their nuclear program, not just (their) weapons program," he said.

"This is an interesting step on their part, a positive step, and we hope that it will allow us to move more rapidly toward the six-party framework talks," Powell added. "I'm encouraged by the statement the North Koreans made."

In a sign it may not be easy to resume six-way talks, a KCNA commentary said U.S. policy -- which demands the irreversible dismantling of DPRK's nuclear arms program rather than a freeze -- "will destroy the foundation of the dialogue and cast a dark shadow" over hopes for new talks.

As the two sides exchanged their statements, the unofficial U.S. delegation flew to DPRK to begin a five-day tour that the visitors hope will include a visit to Yongbyon.

A trip to the nuclear complex would mark the first time outsiders had been allowed into the plant since U.N. inspectors were expelled a year ago at the start of the latest DPRK's nuclear crisis.

A U.S. newspaper and South Korean officials have said the group would visit Yongbyon, but DPRK has yet to confirm that and the head of the delegation said he was not certain.

"It's like going to Disneyland and knowing what rides you're going to go on. We're not going to be able to tell you. We'll know what we've seen when we get back," said John Wilson Lewis, a professor emeritus at Stanford University.

Charles "Jack" Pritchard, a former State Department envoy for DPRk now at the Brookings Institution think tank, and Sig Hecker, director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1985 to 1997, are accompanying Lewis as private citizens.

Also on the trip are Senate Foreign Relations Committee aides Keith Luse and Frank Jannuzi. Washington says the visitors are not going on behalf of the Bush administration.

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