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EU Delegation in N. Korea to Discuss Nuclear Issues - 2003-12-09

A European Union delegation has arrived in Pyongyang to discuss international efforts to get North Korea back into talks on dismantling its nuclear programs. Hopes are fading that multilateral negotiations could be held before the end of the year.

South Korea's deputy foreign minister says unless a new round of six-way talks are held next week, it will be impossible to organize such a meeting before the end of the year because of the Christmas season.

Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck made the comment in an interview with a South Korean radio station on Tuesday. Mr. Lee - who is South Korea's chief negotiator to the nuclear talks - says difficulties remain over "how to harmonize" a resolution for the talks. A major issue is whether North Korea will get security guarantees before or after it begins dismantling its nuclear facilities.

This week the United States, Japan and South Korea sent a proposal for resolving the nuclear standoff to China to relay to North Korea. If Pyongyang accepts the proposal, then, both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia would meet in Beijing for a second round of talks.

A first round of six-way talks about the North Korean nuclear crisis was held in Beijing in August, but it ended inconclusively. Meanwhile, 10 European diplomats are spending three days in North Korea as part of an international push for the talks.

An EU spokesman says the delegation, led by Guido Martini of Italy, will express Europe's concerns about North Korea's nuclear program and will also discuss human rights issues. Mr. Martini has said Europe hopes to contribute to solving the nuclear crisis while "not interfering with the main process of six countries."

The Europeans will later cross the inter-Korean border and meet South Korean officials in Seoul.

Tensions flared on the Korean Peninsula 14 months ago when Washington said North Korea admitted have a secret nuclear weapons development program in violation of international agreements. Subsequently, the United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the North. Pyongyang then expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, withdrew from the global nuclear arms-control treaty and said it was building nuclear arms to defend itself from a U.S. invasion.