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Rice Says Nuclear Deal With Pyongyang Would Normalize Relations

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Berlin Thursday an accord ending North Korea's nuclear program would lead to normal relations between the United States and Pyongyang. The chief U.S. negotiator to the Chinese-sponsored six-party nuclear talks held a two-day set of meetings with his North Korean counterpart in the German capital. VOA's David Gollust has details from Berlin.

Rice arrived in Berlin from a Middle East mission and went immediately to a briefing from Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill on his meetings here with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Gye-Gwan.

Hill had bilateral meetings with the senior North Korean diplomat before within the context of the six-party talks in Beijing, but the closed-door sessions here Tuesday Wednesday were the first of their kind outside of the Chinese venue.

At a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Rice framed the Berlin meetings as part of a broader effort by Hill to prepare the way for a more favorable atmosphere for the next round of six-way talks, which U.S. officials hope can resume later this month.

Under questioning Rice said she agrees with an earlier assertion by Hill that an accord ending the North Korean nuclear program would open the way to normal bilateral ties:

"This is anticipated, of course, in the joint statement that was signed at the six-party talks back in September of 2005, when it was envisioned that the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula would lead to bilateral - a normalization - of relations between the United States and the D.P.R.K. [North Korea], between Japan and the D.P.R.K. Of course other states already have normal relations," said Condoleezza Rice. "But it is very clearly in the context of the denuclearization - complete, verifiable denuclearization - and I should say irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

In the September 2005 understanding, North Korea agreed in principle to end its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees from the other parties, which include South Korea, Japan and Russia as well the United States and host China.

The negotiations broke off shortly thereafter, however, with North Korea complaining of economic penalties the United States imposed because of alleged North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency and other illicit activity.

North Korea returned to the bargaining table in December after a break of more than a year but reportedly wanted to discuss only its demand that the U.S. sanctions be lifted.

In a talk with reporters in Berlin before Secretary Rice's arrival, U.S. delegate Hill said North Korea has a big choice to make when the negotiations resume again:

"I think it is very important that the North Koreans understand that they really have come to a crossroads," said Christopher Hill. "They really have come to a point where they have to decide, do they want nuclear weapons or do they want a future in the international community, because the international community since October 9th - the day that North Korea exploded a nuclear device - has made very clear that the North Korean nuclear program is simply unacceptable."

Hill said the United States has no hostile intentions toward North Korea and no animosity toward its people and looks forward, consistent with its obligations under the 2005 accord, to having a normal relationship with Pyongyang.

The U.S. envoy is due in Seoul for consultations Friday and is to go on to Beijing and Tokyo.