The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has agreed to give a detailed response to a US-led aid-for-disarmament proposal when it returns to nuclear talks later this month, senior US administration officials said.
The one-year-old proposal, which Washington says is comprehensive but Pyongyang sees as too stringent, is key to the success of the six-party talks comprising the United States, South Korea, DPRK, Japan, Russia and China.
DPRK's Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan agreed in a surprise move Saturday that Pyongyang would return to the negotiations from July 25, after the talks were stalled for more than a year.
At a dinner meeting, Kim also told US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill that Pyongyang would respond to the US plan at the talks in Beijing, said the officials accompanying US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her four-nation Asian trip.
Hill had asked Kim whether DPRK was prepared to give a detailed response to the US proposal "and he said they would," one of the officials told reporters on the plane taking Rice to Thailand from her first stop, China.
She will fly to Japan later Monday and proceed to South Korea the next day.
The DPRKs claimed they have responded to the proposal using their state media but Hill told Kim "it would be fair to do it in a meeting and he said, 'yes'," the official said.
At the last round of talks in June 2004, the United States tabled a proposal at the six-party talks offering Pyongyang three months to shut down and seal its nuclear weapons facilities in return for economic and diplomatic rewards and multilateral security guarantees.
It was seen as the first significant overture to Pyongyang since Bush took office in early 2001 and branded the North part of an "axis of evil" alongside Iran and pre-war Iraq.
But the DPRK rejected the proposal, according to official media, because there were excessive upfront obligations by Pyongyang and highly intrusive inspections as well as an agreement for complete dismantling of all of its nuclear facilities.
Pyongyang instead wanted a step by step approach to weaning away from its nuclear program.
"That is why we need to hear from them in a comprehensive way what their concerns are," the US official said, citing the need for a written DPRK response to the proposal.
"If they have concerns about the sequencing and the frontloading, they need to tell us that in a fairly systematic way what precisely is so frontloaded."
The US proposal may be modified or expanded later with South Korean inputs if DPRK moved swiftly to drop its nuclear weapons program, officials said.
Reports suggest South Korea was planning a huge injection of assistance, including energy aid, similar to the US Marshall Plan that was key to putting western Europe back on its feet after World War II.
Rice, who is visiting Thailand's tsunami-hit Phuket island Monday, is expected to discuss the Seoul plan with South Korean leaders on her visit.
She said the plan "shows the DPRK that there is a path ahead if they wish to take advantage of the six-party talks.
US officials also said that the new round of the talks could be held for a longer period to ensure concrete results. Previous rounds were held for about three days each and have not been very engaging.
"I suspect it is going to be a bit longer than previous rounds. Most people feel that previous rounds, there were too much time in between the rounds and the rounds themslevs were too short," the official said.
(Chinadaily.com via agencies July 11, 2005)