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N. Korean Human Rights Record to be Discussed During Nuclear Talks - 2004-02-26

Diplomats from six countries have met in Beijing for a second day of talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. Criticism from the United States on North Korea's human rights record, in addition to a proposal from South Korea will be on the table.

The six delegations were expected to spend Thursday discussing a South Korean proposal to compensate Pyongyang if follows a three-stage process to relinquish its nuclear programs.

China, Russia, Japan, the United States and the two Koreas on Wednesday began their negotiations by stating their positions.

North Korea has demanded security guarantees and compensation in return for a freeze on its nuclear weapons program. The United States, however, insists that Pyongyang verifiably dismantle all nuclear programs first.

Larry Niksch, a specialist in Asian Affairs at the Library of Congress argues that although the South Korean and U.S. positions have similarities, key differences remain. South Korea, he says, is in favor of returning to parts of the 1994 Agreed Framework. In that failed deal, North Korea promised to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions in return for fuel and other aid.

"South Korea would tend to support the idea that an early stage of a settlement process ought to focus on a return to some of the major elements of a 1994 U.S.-North Korean agreed framework," says Mr. Niksch. "Such as, for example, a freeze of North Korea's facilities at Yongbyon and a restoration of heavy oil shipments that were suspended last December."

The U.S. delegates met with the North Korean team privately late Wednesday. Few details have emerged about their discussion, although U.S. officials have described the meeting as an informal discussion that was useful.

There were unconfirmed reports that North Korea and United States were holding a second bilateral meeting Thursday. In addition to North Korea's nuclear programs, the United States plans to bring up its human rights record. A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Thursday called North Korea the world's "worst human rights violator," and a new State Department report called the Stalinist state one of the world's most repressive and inhumane. Japanese delegates also have brought up the issue of Japanese citizens Pyongyang kidnapped in the past to train its spies. Most of them are unaccounted for, and Tokyo also wants North Korea to free the family members of five abductees who were allowed to return to Japan in 2002.

The North Korea crisis began in 2002, when Washington said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret uranium-based weapons program, which the North now denies. Pyongyang, however, says it has restarted the older plutonium-based program that was shut down in 1994. An initial round of talks on the dispute in August in Beijing made little progress.