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Koreas Talk Peaceful Disarmament

North Korea map, North Korea flag, nuclear weapons, atom, North Korean made Scud C missile.
AP / CBS
South and North Korea tentatively agreed in Cabinet-level talks early Wednesday to try to peacefully resolve the nuclear crisis, South Korean press reports from Pyongyang said.

In a draft copy of a joint communique issued before a final round of meetings, the two sides said "South and North Korea will thoroughly consult each other's position on the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and will continue cooperation to resolve their issue peacefully through dialogue."

The joint statement, reported by South Korean pool reporters at the talks in North Korea's capital Pyongyang, came after the North insisted that the South should not meddle in the nuclear standoff, calling it a dispute between itself and Washington.

Last week in talks between the United States and North Korea, Pyongyang said for the first time it had nuclear weapons and was contemplating exporting or even using them, depending on U.S. actions, a senior U.S. official said.

But despite its threats of nuclear tests, North Korea caught the attention of U.S. officials last week by also expressing a willingness to dispose of its missiles and nuclear weapons programs.

The North Koreans told U.S. diplomats in Beijing that in exchange for disarmament, they would insist on a long list of concessions from the United States, including energy assistance.

A senior administration official said Monday much of what the North Koreans proposed was unacceptable because it would restore agreements that had not worked.

The official indicated, however, that the disarmament proposal offered some glimmer of hope in what was an otherwise belligerent presentation to U.S. and Chinese officials last week by North Korean negotiator Ri Gun.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday the United States is reviewing the proposal and is comparing notes with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

The North Koreans "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," Powell said.

And on Tuesday, Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "it is a proposal that is not going to take us in a direction we need to go."

However, Powell said President George W. Bush and he still believed a diplomatic solution was possible, and that other nations affected by North Korea's programs had to be involved in the talks with Pyongyang.

Powell's somewhat hopeful account of the meetings contrasted with initial accounts last week by other U.S. officials, who highlighted the negative aspects of the North Korean presentation.

These included a North Korean acknowledgment for the first time that the country has nuclear weapons and was contemplating exporting or even using them, depending on U.S. behavior.

On Tuesday, North Korea said future nuclear talks would be a waste of time if the United States insists that the communist country first scrap its suspected atomic weapons programs before discussing possible economic and diplomatic benefits.

"It is quite obvious that as long as the U.S. maintains such stand, the two sides will only waste time no matter how frequently they negotiate and such talks will not be of any help to the settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula," said a statement in Pyongyang's official newspaper Minju Joson.

"What is urgent for the peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue is for the U.S. to put into practice its will to make a switchover in its hostile policy toward the (North)," it said.

In South Korea, government sources were quoted in media reports as saying there were sufficient positive aspects in the North Korean proposal to make it worth pursuing further.

The North Korean offer to swap its military might for economic benefits echoed a similar proposal three months ago by Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush said that if North Korea would dismantle its nuclear weapons programs, the United States would be willing to help the country with its food and energy needs.

The administration has said repeatedly that the North must eliminate its weapons programs in a verifiable way before the United States would consider economic benefits.