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Rumsfeld: Any North Korea Agreement Needs Strong Verification

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says any agreement with North Korea on providing technology and other incentives in return for giving up its nuclear weapons programs will need a strong verification system. The secretary made the comment on his way to China, which he says is best positioned to convince the Pyongyang government to follow through on last month's breakthrough in efforts to end the North's nuclear programs.

Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters on his airplane that North Korea will likely not figure prominently in his talks with Chinese leaders, because other U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have been in Beijing to discuss the issue. But asked what the U.S. Defense Department needs to see to be comfortable moving forward with North Korea, the secretary said verification is a key issue.

"One of the important aspects of it will be the requirement, the need, for there to be an inspections regime that is sufficiently inclusive and complete that it develops confidence on the part of the parties, and the world, that the agreement is being adhered to," said Mr. Rumsfeld.

After months of stalemate, North Korea agreed in principle last month to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in return for several incentives, including a U.S. pledge not to attack the country. The deal also says North Korea's negotiating partners would discuss "at an appropriate time" giving the impoverished country a new nuclear reactor for energy purposes.

Pyongyang says it must receive the reactor before it dismantles its weapons programs, while the United States says dismantling must come first.

But the details of the agreement still need to be worked out. And Secretary Rumsfeld says China is in the best position to help make that happen.

"We obviously believe that the People's Republic of China's influence with North Korea is the greatest of the participants, and are hopeful that they're able to use their influence constructively," he said.

In the talks with North Korea, China and the United States are joined by Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Secretary Rumsfeld says the talks on verification and related issues will be a test of whether North Korea is serious about ending its nuclear weapons program. He would not say whether he thinks China should play a central role in the inspection and verification process.

After his talks in China on Wednesday, Secretary Rumsfeld will travel to Seoul for an annual meeting on military affairs. The two countries are in the process of transferring responsibility for South Korean security to the country's own military, a process the secretary says should continue.

"It is time for the Republic of Korea to assume a larger role and responsibility. They're an enormously successful economic power in the world," explained Mr. Rumsfeld. "And certainly they have the wherewithal to increase their defense budget."

Secretary Rumsfeld says the U.S. military commander in South Korea and other senior officials are working with the Seoul government to ensure that the process of reducing the U.S. role in defending the country continues.