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North Korea Willing to Discuss US Nuclear Concerns - 2002-10-21

North Korea has officially responded to U.S. revelations that Pyongyang has violated a 1994 agreement by conducting a covert nuclear weapons program. While North Korea's number two leader did not publicly admit to such a program, he said Pyongyang would be willing to discuss U.S. concerns if Washington stopped treating his country as an enemy.

North Korea's ceremonial head of State, Kim Yong Nam, says Pyongyang would be willing to discuss security concerns. But first the United States must abandon what he called "its hostile attitude" towards the North. Mr. Kim made the comments during discussions Monday with a visiting South Korean delegation.

The three-day inter-Korean ministerial meeting in Pyongyang was originally scheduled to discuss reconciliation projects between North and South which have been locked in an armed truce since the Korean War ended in 1953.

But the talks have been overshadowed by the issue of communist North Korea's long-suspected nuclear weapons program.

New information came to light last week, when the United States said North Korea, confronted by U.S. evidence, admitted to have been secretly running a uranium enrichment program during talks with senior U.S. diplomat James Kelly in early October.

North Korea's nuclear program would violate the 1994 Agreed Framework. Under this accord, cash-strapped Pyongyang agreed to dismantle its suspected nuclear program in return for two light-water nuclear power reactors as well as fuel oil and electricity production.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday, that since North Korea has acknowledged violating the agreement, the deal is as good as dead.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is wrapping up consultations with allies on how to respond to the North Korean problem. Mr. Kelly has talked with Chinese, South Korean and Japanese officials as part of a U.S. effort to bring maximum international pressure to bear upon North Korea.

Mr. Kelly has said the United States wants North Korea to immediately and visibly dismantle the weapons program. Washington has stressed it wants a peaceful solution, but has not said what steps will be taken if diplomacy fails.