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US: N. Korea's Past Actions Undermine Quest for Nuclear Energy

The top U.S. negotiator to the ongoing six-party North Korean nuclear talks says Pyongyang's past actions undermine its insistence for a civil nuclear program.

After nearly two weeks of meetings in Beijing, representatives from the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia took a break to consult with their governments.

One sticky issue is North Korea's insistence that it be allowed to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy program. In Washington Wednesday, Chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher Hill, indicated to reporters that Pyongyang's position is not acceptable.

"It's our view that they [North Korea] do need to dismantle all their programs," he said. "This is a country that had trouble keeping peaceful energy peaceful."

Ambassador Hill pointed to the Soviet-supplied reactor, Yongbyon, which Pyongyang had described as a research reactor that was producing electricity. After the collapse of a 1994 agreement with the United States, though, he said North Korea, which he referred to as the DPRK, made Yongbyon's real purpose clear.

"Within days, the DPRK had expelled the international inspectors, had pulled out of the NPT, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, expelled the inspectors, and then, within a couple of months, were then using this 'peaceful' reactor to produce weapons-grade plutonium there," he said. "So, there's a track record that needs to be dealt with."

The U.S. negotiator said he thinks North Korea's insistence on peaceful nuclear use is the "wrong subject."

"It seems that they should be focusing on what they need to do to get out of this weapons business, get in to the business of providing electricity to their citizens," Ambassador Hill said. "You know, North Korea is one of the darkest countries, in terms of electricity. That is, they have so much of their capacity is offline because it's just not functioning. So, it seems that they should work on that and not work so much on the issue of downstream right to nuclear energy."

Ambassador Hill added that North Korea's energy needs are addressed by the current deal.

"For example, the South Koreans, the Republic of Korea, came forward with a rather robust proposal, a serious proposal indeed, to provide energy, to provide electricity in, really, the near term," he said. "We're talking two and a half, three, years max. This would be a program that would get on line very rapidly and provide substantial amount of electricity that could meet a lot of the needs of DPRK"

The six-party nuclear talks started again last month, after more than a year-long hiatus. Following this brief recess, the current round is scheduled to resume in Beijing at the end of this month.