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N. Korea Proposes Conditions for Ending Nuclear Weapons Program - 2004-02-26


North Korea says it will end its nuclear weapons program if the United States softens its policy toward Pyongyang. The comment follows the second day of six-way negotiations on the North's nuclear ambitions.

The brief statement from the North Koreans blames the United States for a lack of progress in the talks in Beijing. A North Korean diplomat said his country would give up its nuclear weapons program if Washington ended its hostile policy.

But it is not clear that Pyongyang has changed its own positions during the talks.

At the start of the talks on Wednesday, the North repeated its demands for aid and a security guarantee from the United States before it freezes its nuclear weapons programs. Washington insisted that Pyongyang must first start to verifiably dismantle all its nuclear programs before aid can be discussed.

Delegates from South Korea, Russia, and China appeared to break sharply from the U.S. position, by saying their governments would give North Korea energy aid in return for a nuclear freeze.

Chinese government spokesman Liu Jianchao said the talks had entered a crucial stage.

The various parties welcomed the proposition from the North Korean side for the comprehensive stopping of nuclear activities.

The head of the Russian delegation, Alexander Losyukov, says North Korea is ready to end its military nuclear program, but will maintain its peaceful nuclear capabilities.

He acknowledges that the proposal falls far short of U.S. demands.

He says a gap remains and that there are certain doubts that it will be impossible to remove it during this session of talks.

The Russian diplomat said the United States and Japan do not appear likely to provide aid now.

U.S. officials did not immediately comment on North Korea's statement or offer for a freeze.

Analysts say Washington views the North's proposal as the same as a failed 1994 agreement in which Pyongyang was to end a plutonium program in return for aid and other benefits. The United States says the North violated that deal, and other accords, by running a secret uranium-based nuclear program, a charge Pyongyang denies. North Korea, however, says it has restarted the old plutonium operation.

U.S. officials have said they want the North Koreans to enter into a commitment that will be harder to break.

The Beijing talks are scheduled to continue for a third day Friday.

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