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North Korea Offers Nuclear Freeze for Fuel Aid - 2003-12-09

North Korea says it will freeze its nuclear weapons program and return to the negotiating table in exchange for fuel aid and other concessions. The offer comes as a European Union delegation arrives in Pyongyang to discuss how to get North Korea back into talks on dismantling its nuclear programs.

Before it will agree to return to multilateral talks, North Korean said Tuesday it wants energy assistance and to be taken off the United States' list of terrorism-sponsoring nations. In return, Pyongyang would freeze its nuclear program.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry issued the Korean-language statement on its state-run news agency. It called the offer "initial steps" that could be agreed to verbally.

It comes as the international community is trying to organize a second round of nuclear talks with Pyongyang. The talks involve the United States, both Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.

The main stumbling block is reported to be whether North Korea will get security guarantees before or after it agrees to dismantle its nuclear facilities. In the last week, the United States, Japan and South Korea put together their own proposal on how to end the nuclear crisis, and asked China to deliver it to North Korea.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Tuesday refused to say if China has forwarded anything to Pyongyang, or when the next round of six-way talks might take place.

Mr. Liu said all the parties have some similar and also different points, but the most important thing for China is that all sides negotiate and provide the necessary preparation for the talks and push forward.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck on Tuesday told a Seoul radio station that 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.

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. The delegation is led by Italy's Guido Martini. He has said Europe hopes to contribute to solving the nuclear crisis while "not interfering with the main process of six countries."

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.