N Korea nuclear talks stalled amid disputes

International efforts to put an end to North Korea’s nuclear programme appeared to hit a snag on Saturday after Pyongyang defiantly insisted it had lived up to its end of a six-party disarmament deal.

Days after the North missed a December 31 deadline to disable its nuclear plants and provide a full declaration of its nuclear facilities, it insisted it had given the list to the United States in November, a claim Washington denied.

North Korea said it had been forced to slow compliance with the deal reached last February as the other parties to the agreement — China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US — had not held up their end of the bargain.

It accused the other parties of failing to deliver promised energy aid, and also said the US had not ”honoured its commitments” to remove Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

”Looking back on what has been done, one may say that the [North] is going ahead of others in fulfilling its commitment,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement released late on Friday.

Top US envoy Christopher Hill was to arrive in Tokyo on Monday at the start of a regional tour likely to focus on efforts to kick-start the long-running negotiations.

Analysts said the disarmament process had reached a turning point.

”Efforts to dismantle North Korea’s nuclear facilities are now at a crossroads due to a dispute over a suspected uranium-enrichment programme,” Paik Hak-Soon, an analyst at Sejong Institute in Seoul, said.

”Both North Korea and the US are in a dilemma over how to establish the pattern of action,” he said, adding that the North would look for ”strong incentives” from Washington before proceeding with disarmament.

”The statement means that North Korea will not take further action until the US and other parties reciprocate. They think they have done enough,” Paik said.

Washington says it has evidence that Pyongyang imported material that could be used in a secret uranium-enrichment programme. The North has never publicly admitted any such operation.

On the issue of the nuclear declaration, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto said the US was ”still waiting” for North Korea’s full account of its nuclear programmes.

”We are awaiting the declaration, and we want it to be complete, full and accurate, and so that’s what we’ll be looking for. And we don’t have that yet,” he said.

But the North’s Foreign Ministry said it had drafted a report in November last year and notified Washington of its contents, adding that ”the [North] has done what it should do.”

US officials did not deny that the two sides may have discussed some of the details of that report, but insisted the full list had not been delivered.

As for disablement, the North’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that all operations ”within the technologically possible scope” were completed as of December 31, with the unloading of spent fuel rods to be done within 100 days.

North Korea agreed last February to give up its nuclear-weapons programmes in return for one million tonnes of fuel oil or equivalent energy aid, diplomatic benefits and security guarantees.

Under a final phase of the deal, it is to dismantle its plants and hand over all nuclear materials in return for diplomatic relations with the US and Japan, an end to sanctions and a formal peace pact on the Korean peninsula.

”Pyongyang is disappointed at slow action by Washington but still hopes to settle the issue through negotiations,” said Dongguk University professor Koh Yu-Hwan.

”It may use its usual tactic of brinkmanship again in a bid to win greater concessions from the Bush administration before his term ends,” he predicted. — AFP



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