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US Calls on N. Korea to Dismantle Nuclear Weapons Program - 2002-10-19

A top U.S. official has called on North Korea to immediately dismantle its nuclear weapons program. The official says no deadline is set by Washington but he adds Pyongyang needs to take the first step.

This is the first time Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly has given a detailed account of his visit to North Korea earlier this month.

During that trip, the U.S. diplomat says, he presented Pyongyang officials with evidence of their secret program to produce weapons-grade nuclear materials and they eventually acknowledged the fact.

"I told the North that they must immediately and visibly dismantle this covert nuclear weapons program," he said. "After initial denials, North Korean officials flatly acknowledged that they have such a program."

He says the United States is consulting with its allies on the issue, and hopes to bring maximum pressure on the North to abandon the nuclear program. Unlike the situation with Iraq, he says the Bush administration is willing to give Pyongyang time to eliminate this potential weapon of mass destruction on its own.

"There is no deadline for this. This is a difficult and complex problem and we're in these consultations with our allies about what is the best way to do it," Mr. Kelly said. " The easiest way would be for North Korea to promptly and visibly dismantle this program, and there could be many easy ways that they could do that."

Mr. Kelly spoke in Seoul, where he has been discussing the situation with top South Korean officials. He had just spent the previous two days consulting Chinese officials in Beijing, and is due to fly to Tokyo on Sunday to confer with the Japanese government.

Mr. Kelly says Washington has offered the North Koreans no deal in return for a dismantling of the program. He said before any deals can be made, it is up to Pyongyang to act.

Under a 1994 agreement with the United States, North Korea promised to abandon its nuclear weapons program. In return, it was agreed that two light-water nuclear reactors to generate electric power, would be built in the North, financed mainly by South Korea and Japan.

"This is not a replay of 1993 and 1994, and when I went to North Korea, I wanted them to understand just how important we believe that this violation of past agreements is," he said.

Mr. Kelly said North Korean officials told him they now considered that 1994 agreement nullified.

His visit to Seoul coincides with talks taking place in the North between officials from the two Koreas. South Korea's unification minister, who is heading the delegation from Seoul, said Saturday that he would make it a priority to learn about the North's nuclear program.

Mr. Kelly refused to say what action might be taken if diplomacy fails and North Korea refuses to comply.