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Rice Says North Korea Needs to 'Get Serious' About Nuclear Talks

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday North Korea has not yet shown it is serious about talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program. The secretary of state spoke on the sidelines of the APEC summit in South Korea, after consulting foreign ministers of other countries taking part in the Chinese-sponsored nuclear talks.

The latest session of the six-party talks in Beijing, by design, lasted just three days, to allow many of the participants to join in the APEC summit.

The issue figured heavily in Ms. Rice's talks meetings here with the foreign ministers of four countries also involved in the nuclear talks, Russia, Japan, South Korea and China.

At a briefing for reporters traveling with her to South Korea, Ms. Rice said she thinks the United States and the four other governments are "essentially on the same page" with what needs to be done in the negotiations, now more than two years old.

However, she says it remains to be seen whether North Korea is ready to follow up the general commitment to disarm that it made in September with real discussion on the specifics of a nuclear agreement:

"I think the jury is out on whether the North Koreans are prepared to do what they need to do, which is to get serious about the dismantlement and verification obligations that they undertook in that framework agreement," she said. "And, thus far I think the round that just ended did not have the kind of engagement on that issue from the North Koreans that we might have expected."

Ms. Rice says the statement of principles announced at the end of the previous round September 19th was an extremely important achievement, in that it provided a framework for how to move forward.

She says no date has been set for the next set of talks; but says she expects them to resume by the end of the year, or soon thereafter, and that the North Koreans need to come to the next round seriously prepared to talk about dismantlement and verification.

North Korea said in the September statement that it was prepared to end nuclear activities, in exchange for aid and security guarantees. But it later said it was also insisting on a light-water reactor for civilian use.

A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters here said North Korea made scant mention of the light-water reactor at the latest round, but did attempt to raise financial issues unrelated to the talks.

The official said, although North Korean leaders may have made a strategic decision to disarm, they have not followed it up with any plans for implementation and the other five parties need to "keep pushing them" on the issue.

The talks began in 2003 but stalled for more than a year before resuming last July.