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New US Envoy to South Korea Skeptical on North Korea's Nuclear Stance

  • Kurt Achin

Washington's new ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow has expressed skepticism about North Korea's commitment to ending its nuclear weapons program. In one of his first public statements, Mr. Vershbow said the communist state stands to gain significantly from dismantling the program but he is doubtful whether Pyongyang will drop its unrealistic demands of the United States.

Speaking to South Korea's American Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, newly confirmed U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow said it will soon be apparent whether North Korean leaders are serious about implementing nuclear disarmament pledges they made in September.

"If they are, we [the United States] are prepared to move forward on other aspects of the September 19 joint statements - including discussion of a permanent peace regime for the Korean peninsula," he said.

In joint statements at the end of six-party talks in September, North Korea agreed in principle to end its nuclear weapons programs. In exchange, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and the United States promised eventual diplomatic and financial incentives - including a possible treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, which was halted only by an armistice.

However there has been no progress since on the steps or timetable for disarmament.

North Korea complicated the process when it made a new demand on September 20 for a light-water nuclear reactor for energy production. The other nations in six-party talks agree this is unacceptable until North Korea complies with its non-proliferation commitments.

Ambassador Vershbow questioned the North's motives for seeking another nuclear facility.

"We have our doubts as to whether light-water reactors are the most rational solution to North Korea's energy needs," he said.

South Korea has issued a standing offer to address the North's severe energy shortages by providing electricity after Pyongyang disarms.

There have been five rounds of six-nation disarmament talks since 1993. The next round has yet to be scheduled.