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Rice Backs Seoul's North Korea Electricity Proposal

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has expressed support for a South Korean proposal to provide energy to North Korea in exchange for nuclear disarmament. However, she has emphasized that the next round of nuclear talks must produce progress on ending all of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrapped up her Asian visit in Seoul Wednesday on a note of optimism regarding the North Korean nuclear issue. "I think we have to be quite satisfied with the efforts of all of the parties to the six-party talks," she said.

Ms. Rice welcomed the North's decision to return on July 25 to multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs. She praised Washington's other partners in the talks - South Korea, China, Japan, and Russia - for speaking in a unified voice in convincing the North to end its year-long boycott of the negotiations.

Ms. Rice says South Korea's latest offer, to provide electricity to Pyongyang in return for Pyongyang abandoning nuclear weapons, is a "creative proposal" and an "opportunity" to address North Korea's severe energy shortage at the same time.

In a joint news conference Wednesday with Ms. Rice, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said both senior diplomats are of one mind about the next round of talks. Mr. Ban says he and Ms. Rice welcome North Korea's return to the negotiations, but they both agree it is also imperative that the talks produce progress.

Ms. Rice says that progress must apply to all of North Korea's nuclear arms capabilities: its plutonium-based program, and a uranium enrichment program it has never publicly acknowledged. "We've been very clear about that, we're going to be clear about it again," she stated. "And on this, I don't think there's any difference with others in the six-party talks, because nuclear weapons programs means nuclear weapons programs. Period."

The United States says that in 2002, North Korea admitted in private discussions with U.S. officials to having a uranium enrichment program, after Washington confronted Pyongyang with evidence of that program. It has since publicly denied that it has anything but a plutonium-based program.

Pyongyang has said it already possesses an unknown number of nuclear weapons, and Washington is demanding that it give up those weapons in addition to ending its development programs.

Secretary Rice was scheduled to depart Seoul for Washington later on Wednesday.