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North Korea Warns of Slowdown on Ending Nuclear Capabilities

  • Kurt Achin

North Korea is warning it may slow down the pace of ending its nuclear capabilities as part of a multinational negotiation process. The latest meetings in that process broke down this week in Beijing, leading Washington to suspend energy aid to the North. Other partners in the talks are expressing their regrets about the lack of progress.

A day after the United States and its regional partners warned they would suspend energy aid to North Korea, Pyongyang says it may hold on to its nuclear weapons capabilities a bit longer than planned.

North Korea's chief delegate to multinational nuclear talks, Kim Kye-gwan, spoke Saturday to reporters in Beijing.

Kim says Pyongyang will be fine even if heavy oil shipments it was scheduled to receive are suspended. He warns, North Korea will adjust the speed of its work to disable its nuclear programs if the fuel does not come in.

Energy assistance is one of the benefits North Korea is supposed to receive in exchange for gradual steps toward nuclear disarmament. The North submitted a declaration of its nuclear programs earlier this year as part of a multi-phase deal aimed at getting rid of of its nuclear weapons altogether.

However, talks between the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the United States broke down this week in Beijing after the six parties failed to break an impasse over verifying the accuracy of that nuclear declaration. The United States says international nuclear inspectors need the ability to take physical samples for lab study from suspected North Korean nuclear sites. Pyongyang says it will not permit that.

At a summit in Fukuoka, Japan, Saturday, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso expressed regret for what they called North Korea's "failure to cooperate" in verifying the truth of the North's nuclear pledges.

In a separate statement, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao expressed his own regrets, and urged North and South Korea to resume dialogue. North Korea recently tightened its border to the South and is threatening to cut contacts with Seoul completely in anger over the South's conservative policy toward aid and investment in the North.

No further six-nation nuclear talks are scheduled at this time. Negotiations are viewed as unlikely to resume before the January inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama.

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