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Australian Diplomats on Pyongyang Mission to Resolve Nuclear Standoff - 2003-01-14


An Australian delegation goes to Pyongyang in search of a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear standoff. The trip is part of an international diplomatic push in several cities.

Five Australian officials went to Pyongyang Tuesday, pledging to offer North Korea "strong views" on mounting world concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons development.

They are the first Western officials to visit the hardline Stalinist state since a dispute erupted in October over North Korea's nuclear program.

"The purpose of our visit is of course to express our strong views in regard to the recent developments in the nuclear issue of North Korea," said diplomat Murray McLean, who leads the group. "Australia is a country that belongs to this region. We have diplomatic relations with North Korea. We also happen to have a strong interest in ensuring stability and security of this region, and so we are looking to make some contribution toward that end."

After days of fiery rhetoric, North Korea's official media on Tuesday reiterated a call for direct talks with the United States and dismissed international condemnation of its nuclear programs.

In Moscow, North Korean Ambassador Pak Ui Chun floated the possibility that under the right circumstances, the North could consider rejoining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it pulled out of last week. He also said United Nations nuclear inspectors might be allowed back in to the country, but only if the West treats Pyongyang as an equal partner and ties with the United States improve.

Mr. Pak accused U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly of provoking the escalating nuclear dispute. After visiting Pyongyang in October, Mr. Kelly said the North admitted to violating a pact with the United States in which it promised to freeze a nuclear weapons program.

That prompted Washington and its allies to halt energy aid to the North, which then reopened a frozen nuclear facility able to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Mr. Kelly is now on a five-nation Asian tour to discuss the standoff.

Japan's government urged North Korea to maintain its moratorium on missile testing. Pyongyang last week threatened to restart test launches. Yasuo Fukuda is the government spokesman.

He said if the North Korea resumes tests, it would be a violation of the Japan-North Korea Pyongyang declaration. Japan asks the North not to restart tests.

Last September, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il signed a declaration in Pyongyang pledging to cooperate and work to maintain peace in the region.

North Korea caused international alarm in 1998 when it test fired a ballistic missile that flew over Japan, showing it had mastered key technologies needed to develop long-range missiles.

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