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Talks in Beijing on North Korean Nuclear Weapons Program - 2003-04-24

U.S., North Korean and Chinese diplomats began talks in Beijing Wednesday to resolve a six-month standoff over Pyongyang’s suspected nuclear weapons program. As David Cohler reports, both sides are maintaining silence on the closed-door meetings:

The U.S. delegation is being led by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, a veteran of diplomacy in Asia who usually has a word for the press. But not Wednesday as the three-day talks got underway behind the walls of a Beijing guest house. Mr. Kelly, however, was open and friendly compared to North Korean delegation chief Li Gun, whose limousine did not slow down enough for photographers even to see his face.

Hosted by Chinese officials, the talks are the first formal face-to-face encounter between U.S. and North Korean officials since relations went sour last October. That's when Washington accused Pyongyang of violating a pledge not to develop nuclear weapons.

At first North Korea claimed its nuclear plants existed solely to produce electricity. Then it withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and now it has taken steps to begin production of plutonium-based weapons.

The United States says North Korea must scrap those efforts – a demand repeated Wednesday by White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“The president’s hope is that this will lead to greater stability on the Korean peninsula, and the way to create greater stability on the Korean peninsula is for the North Koreans to agree to the permanent dismantlement of their nuclear weapons programs.”

For his part, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il says before scrapping a powerful deterrent he needs to stave off the threat of attack, he must first have a security guarantee from the United States. The Beijing talks will resume Thursday.