China says North Korea offers to scrap nuke program
By Reuters, 4/28/03
BEIJING (Reuters) -- North Korea offered to scrap its nuclear program during talks with the United States in Beijing last week if Washington dropped its "hostile attitude," Western diplomats briefed by a Chinese official said Monday.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Washington that North Korea had proposed a plan that would "ultimately deal with" their nuclear capability and missile activities, but wanted something major in return.
"The North Koreans acknowledged a number of things that they were doing and in effect said these are now up for further discussion," Powell told reporters.
"They did put forward a plan that would ultimately deal with their nuclear capability and their missile activities but they of course expect something considerable in return," he said.
The Western diplomats in Beijing said Pyongyang had also offered to suspend ballistic missile tests and stop missile exports.
One envoy quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry's top North Korea expert as saying North Korea had sought "credible security assurances" from the United States during the talks.
North Korean negotiators told their U.S. counterparts that nuclear inspectors would be allowed into their country if Washington "dropped its hostile attitude," a European diplomat told Reuters.
The first diplomat quoted the Chinese official as saying Pyongyang had demanded Washington negotiate "on the basis of equality and mutual sovereignty."
North Korea also sought compensation for a delay in the completion of light water reactors under a 1994 pact in which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear program in return for them, they said.
It was unclear why China had held the rare briefing for about 20 diplomats, mostly from the European Union.
U.S. administration sources said last week that North Korean officials told Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in Beijing that their country already had atomic bombs, and could make more because it had reprocessed thousands of spent nuclear fuel rods.
But the Chinese Foreign Ministry painted an entirely different picture of the April 23-25 talks, which Beijing hosted in the hope of ending a nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang that began last October.
The Western diplomats quoted the Chinese official as saying Pyongyang wanted to establish diplomatic relations with Washington and mend fences with South Korea and Japan.
North Korea backed down from its previous insistence on bilateral talks with the United States and told Kelly it had no preference for any particular format for negotiations, said the diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But North Korea warned of "extraordinary measures" if the United States played its "usual tricks," the first diplomat quoted the Chinese official as saying.
U.S. negotiators made no comment on North Korea's proposals other than saying Washington would study them, they said.
The first diplomat said Western envoys had been told that North Korean negotiator Li Gun had not made any threats about "selling, testing or possessing nuclear weapons" during the formal sessions of the Beijing talks.
But he said there had been "ample opportunity to do so privately."
The Washington Post has quoted a U.S. official as saying Li Gun took Kelly aside to tell him that North Korea already had nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials have said the reported admission came as no surprise to Washington, which already believed Pyongyang possessed one or two atomic bombs.
U.S. DEMANDED VERIFIABLE PACT
China and North Korea fought alongside each other against the United States and South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War.
China does not want a nuclear-armed North Korea, a prospect that conjures visions of Japan, South Korea and even China's longtime rival Taiwan also going nuclear.
Nor does Beijing want sanctions, fearing they could spark more brinkmanship from its unpredictable neighbor, or even a collapse that would send millions of hungry refugees pouring into China, already North Korea's main supplier of oil and food.
The Western diplomats quoted the Chinese official as saying Kelly had told his North Korean counterparts the United States' goal was to end North Korea's nuclear program under verifiable conditions.
Kelly insisted Pyongyang should not use humanitarian assistance for leverage, they said.
"If North Korea addresses U.S. concerns about its nuclear missiles, conventional forces and human rights, then and only then can comprehensive talks take place," the first diplomat quoted the Chinese official as saying. REUTERS