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North Korean Concert Organizers Seek Momentum on Nuclear Issue


This week's New York Philharmonic performance in the North Korean capital was more than just a night at the symphony. It was also a chance for several unofficial U.S. envoys to talk extensively with senior North Korean officials. VOA Seoul Correspondent Kurt Achin reports on what two of the concert's main organizers heard from Pyongyang about the stalled nuclear weapons talks.

Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg and Evans Revere, president of the New York-based Korea Society, said in Seoul Thursday they sensed an "overwhelming" feeling of good will at this week's Pyongyang concert.

The two former U.S. diplomats say the event, broadcast live across North Korea, may have created the right atmosphere for a breakthrough on stalled nuclear weapons diplomacy. North Korea promised early last year to declare all of its nuclear activities before the start of 2008, but has still failed to do so.

During their Pyongyang visit, Gregg and Revere held several hours of talks with senior North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Kwan. Ambassador Gregg says he asked Kim why the North's declaration was stalled, but received an incomplete answer.

"He fought that question off by saying, 'you Americans have been too slow in the delivery of heavy oil fuels and so he said you're not living up to the formula of action to action, and that explains why we are stalled,'" he said.

The declaration is part of a broader, multi-phase agreement, which rewards North Korea with energy aid, financial assistance, and the prospect of better relations in exchange for gradual steps toward completely abandoning nuclear weapons.

Gregg says a deeper reason for the declaration's delay is that North Korea fears possible embarrassment over its contents. Washington has insisted the North account for uranium enrichment Pyongyang has never publicly admitted, and also that it address U.S. suspicions the North may have provided nuclear assistance to Syria.

Gregg says former Defense Secretary William Perry told Kim Kye Kwan the best time to act is now, while President Bush is in office, rather than after one of the front-running candidates to replace him is sworn in next January.

"When we shifted to why it was imperative to move quickly, by describing what would happen under a McCain administration or an Obama administration - which would very clearly be a more difficult situation than the one today - he made no response," Ambassador Gregg said.

Gregg says he interpreted that silence as acceptance. Experts say a McCain administration would likely take a much harder line on North Korea, while a Democratic party president may find their options limited by Republican opponents in the U.S. Congress.

Revere says he remains convinced North Korea is serious about the negotiations.

"I came away from all of these discussions over several hours with the very clear sense that the North Koreans are prepared to engage in exploratory diplomacy, and creative diplomacy, designed at getting around the current obstacles," he said.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Washington's chief envoy to the nuclear talks, left Beijing Thursday after looking for ways to renew the process. No new date has been set for the multinational talks to resume.

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