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Diplomats Try to Bring North Korea Back to Nuclear Talks - 2004-08-18


Diplomatic efforts are underway to persuade North Korea to continue participating in the dialogue on its nuclear-weapons programs, after Pyongyang indicated its reluctance to attend further negotiations. Both China and Australia's foreign minister are trying to convince Pyongyang to be more accommodating.

In a statement, China asked the five other nations taking part in negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons to remain "pragmatic and flexible."

Beijing, which has been hosting the six-party talks, made the appeal after Pyongyang indicated Tuesday it might not attend a working-level meeting on the issue that was expected later this month. Pyongyang complained that a "hostile attitude" from Washington made further talks useless.

But Chinese diplomats said Tuesday that North Korea had not ruled out participation in the next round of formal negotiations with China, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia. Those high-level talks are tentatively scheduled for next month.

China has hosted three rounds of the talks, which are aimed at persuading Pyongyang to dismantle its weapons programs in return for economic aid and other concessions, but little progress has been made.

The issue first emerged in October 2002. The United States said North Korea had privately admitted that it had a secret uranium-based nuclear program, something Pyongyang publicly denies.

North Korea has admitted to having re-opened its plutonium-based program, in violation of international agreements. Washington is demanding that the North verifiably and irrevocably dismantle the weapons programs, but Pyongyang says it first wants security guarantees and aid.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon says efforts are being made to hold working-level talks later this month.

Hoping to coax the North into a more flexible stance, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer met with North Korean officials in Pyongyang.

"I think this has been a very productive exercise," he said. "I have been concerned that the six-party talks process was stalling, and I hope that we have been able to add some substantial momentum to that process."

Australia, a strong ally of the United States, is also one of the few Western countries to have diplomatic relations with North Korea, and Mr. Downer is hoping to act as a go-between. He said Canberra is willing to increase aid and investments in the North if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear ambitions.

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