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US, North Korean Officials To Meet Saturday In Geneva

Senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats meet next Saturday and Sunday in Geneva for talks on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program and on the prospect of normalized relations. The bilateral working group meeting is part of the broader six-party disarmament process. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations and, a peace agreement formally ending the 1950's Korean conflict, are long-term aims of the six-party process.

But State Department officials say the Geneva working group meeting will also deal with disarmament, so that the first ministerial-level meeting of the six-parties can be held as anticipated by mid-October.

North Korea shut down its main nuclear reactor in July in return for 50,000 tons of fuel oil in the first phase of implementation of the nuclear framework, reached in September of 2005 and finalized last February.

Pyongyang is supposed to make a full declaration of its nuclear holdings including weapons and permanently disable the Yongbyon reactor in the next phase of the deal.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said normalization issues, including the prospect of removing North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, will be discussed at Geneva.

But he stressed that the new relationship between Pyongyang and the international community envisioned in the six-party agreement cannot occur without disarmament:

"Ultimately, if you successfully implement the September '05 agreement, and there is complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, then you have an opportunity for a new kind of relationship between North Korea and the United States, and North Korea and its other neighbor as well," said Tom Casey. "Certainly, though, what potential there is for full normalization of relations, is hinged on, and entirely dependent on that denuclearization part."

Casey said delegations in Geneva will be led by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, who last met in Beijing in July at a six-way envoy-level meeting.

The envoys are expected to meet again in mid-September and clear the way for the ministerial-level meeting a month later.

The six-party process, which began in 2003, includes Japan, the United States, Russia and the two Koreas in addition to host China.

North Korea is to receive a total of one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid in return for completely scrapping its nuclear program.

Incentives for Pyongyang also include normalizing relations with both the United States and Japan.

But a senior diplomat here said the U.S.-North Korea track will not advance without progress on the North Korea-Japan front, including the issue of Japanese nationals allegedly abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s.

The U.S. diplomat said it was unclear how long the process of normalizing ties with North Korea might take but pointed to the U.S.-Libyan relationship as a model.

That relationship was frozen for more than three decades until Libya renounced weapons of mass destruction in 2003.

A step-by-step normalization process followed, capped last year by Libya's removal from the terrorism list and a declaration of full relations.