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North Korea Rejects US Nuclear Proposal - 2004-06-28

North Korea has described last week's talks on its nuclear weapons program as "positive," but said a U.S. proposal to defuse the issue was unacceptable.

A statement by North Korea's Foreign Ministry Monday described last week's talks in Beijing as positive. But Pyongyang said the wide differences that remain between it and Washington still stand in the way of real progress.

While praising U.S. negotiators for their flexibility, the statement said an American proposal that North Korea shut down and seal its nuclear facilities over a three-month period lacked a "scientific and realistic nature."

The statement said Washington had still not responded adequately to Pyongyang's demands for energy aid and security guarantees, and again called on the Bush administration to drop its "hostile" policy towards the North.

During last week's talks, North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia agreed that an initial "freeze" of North Korea's nuclear development would be a first step toward an eventual dismantling of the programs. Professor Gavan McCormack of The Australian National University, the author of a book on North Korea, says the United States backed away from demanding a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement" under pressure from the other parties.

"I think what's happened is that the United States feared that at the table in Beijing it would be sitting by itself with the other five countries, all opposed to that extreme demand," he said. "Therefore the United States had to back off."

However, Professor Yoichi Shimada, a Japanese national security expert at Fukui Prefectural University, believes only an even tougher line by Washington and its allies will lead to change on Pyongyang's part.

"I think the important point at this stage is to squeeze North Korea economically using any means practical," said Professor Shimada. "The regime change would be the only way to resolve the nuclear issue, abduction issue and many other issues."

The North Korean statement indicated that Washington's allegation that Pyongyang has a uranium-enrichment program, as well as a plutonium program, remains a major sticking point. Pyongyang has denied having a uranium program, and its statement Monday called this an "unreasonable assertion" by Washington.

Japan has said no aid will be given to North Korea until Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development has ended, and more credible details about Japanese abducted during the Cold War by North Korean agents are made available.

The six parties agreed in principle Saturday to hold a fourth round of discussions on the nuclear weapons issue by the end of September.