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UN Chief 'Encouraged' By North Korea Talks

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he is encouraged by North Korea's apparent willingness to dismantle its nuclear weapons. In an exclusive VOA interview, Mr. Ban discussed his back stage role in the ongoing six-party talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. Correspondent Peter Heinlein spoke to the secretary-general, and files this report.

As a former South Korean foreign minister, Mr. Ban is intimately familiar with the six-party talks involving South and North Korea, Russia, China, Japan and the United States. But since he took over as U.N. secretary-general in January, he no longer has an active role in the talks.

Nevertheless, Mr. Ban told VOA he is watching developments carefully, and working behind the scenes to ensure the success of efforts to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

"I have been closely monitoring, in my capacity as secretary-general of the United Nations, using my experience and know-how dealing with the North Korea nuclear issue," said Mr. Ban. "It was a very encouraging development of the situation when the six parties have agreed on these nuclear issues and denuclearization process."

Mr. Ban says his efforts include close contacts with many of the principals in the six-party talks, which resumed Monday in Beijing.

"I have been trying my best, first, to facilitate the ongoing peace process," said U.N. secretary-general. "I met the chief negotiator of the United States."

"I have discussed this matter with Secretary of State, Dr. Rice, and many other senior officials of other governments," he added.

The secretary-general said he was pleased at the landmark 'aid-for disarmament' deal reached among the six parties February 13 in Beijing. According to the terms of that deal, North Korea agreed to dismantle all nuclear weapons and materials in return for economic and security assistance.

Secretary-General Ban called Pyongyang's decision to accept the deal 'good policy'.

"It's always good for the parties to engage in direct dialogue in a bilateral setting or a multilateral setting. And it is also encouraging that North Korea has decided to engage in dialogue. It was I think a good policy for them," Mr. Ban said.

The secretary-general also expressed satisfaction that the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, has also had good discussions with North Korean authorities about implementing the February 13th deal.

If followed, the agreement would lead to North Korea getting out of the nuclear weapons business entirely, normalizing relations with longtime enemies Japan and the United States, and possibly ending 53 years of stalemate that has existed since the Korean War ended without a peace agreement.

But the chief U.S. delegate at the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill recently cautioned against being overly optimistic about the early successes. He likened the process to a video game that gets more and more difficult as you move on to higher and higher levels.