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North Korea Wants Nuclear Talks to Focus on 'Arms Reduction'

North Korea says it wants talks on ending its nuclear programs turned into arms reductions negotiations, saying the United States should cut its nuclear forces.

The official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday that it wants six-party nuclear talks to be conducted on a "more equitable" footing, with "mutual arms reductions" as the goal.

South Korean officials say they will not respond to the announcement, until they have fully interpreted it. However, the wording suggests Pyongyang is rejecting complete nuclear disarmament as the main goal of the talks.

North Korea said in February it was pulling out of nuclear talks with the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. Pyongyang said it already possessed nuclear weapons, and intended to build more.

Professor Lee Jong-Hoon specializes in North-South relations at Yonsei University here in Seoul. He says the reason for this latest announcement, and previous declarations about the talks, is simply that North Korea does not want to give up its nuclear capability.

"So it's making all sorts of excuses to prevent the six-way talks from continuing," said Lee Jong-Hoon.

Professor Lee says North Korea's references to "mutual disarmament" are a likely reference to conventional U.S. forces in South Korea.

"They probably feel that, without the American military presence, that unification [with South Korea] could come about on their terms," he said.

The United States has stationed forces in South Korea since North Korea invaded it in 1950. Currently there are about 30,000 U.S. troops on the peninsula.

For more than two years, the five partner nations have been pushing North Korea to give up its nuclear arms, which it has been developing, despite several international pledges to remain nuclear free.

The last round of talks was in June 2004, and, since then, North Korea has refused to resume discussions, unless the United States changes what Pyongyang calls its "hostile attitude."

U.S. officials have said repeatedly Washington has no intention of attacking the country.

In Thursday's statement, North Korea reiterated its view that its nuclear weapons protect it from the United States.

A senior South Korean official told VOA Thursday it is too early to respond to the announcement. However, he repeated Seoul's position that South Korea will not tolerate nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula, and that there is no reason to change that position.

Earlier Thursday, the chief U.S. negotiator to the nuclear talks, Ambassador Christopher Hill, said it was essential to get the talks started again.

During a brief news conference during a visit to Hong Kong, he said that, if the talks do not resume, Washington would consider other options for dealing with North Korea, but did not say what those might be.