US, NKorea Hold Talks to Break Nuclear Impasse

The United States and North Korea held talks Friday to break a deadlock over measures to verify Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program that could pave the way for removing the country from a terrorism blacklist.

US envoy to North Korea Sung Kim, seen in May 2008, listens to a question during a briefing at the State Department in Washington. Kim, the State Department's top Korea expert, will meet with North Korean officials in New York Friday to break an impasse over efforts to end the hardline state's nuclear weapons program, the State Department said.(AFP/File/Nicholas Kamm)

The talks in New York between Sung Kim, the State Department's top Korea expert, and North Korean officials were a follow-up to a meeting held about three weeks ago in Beijing over verification of the North's nuclear program declared in June, officials said.

"Obviously, they are going to talk about the six-party talks, obviously recent discussions about the verification package, which we have been calling on the North Koreans to produce," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood before the talks.

Asked whether Pyongyang was set to agree on a proposed verification protocol, Wood said Sung Kim was "going to assess where things are with North Korea in his conversations with North Korean officials.

"The US government wants to see this verification package as soon as possible so that we can move forward with this delisting," he added.

Washington has said it would remove North Korea from the State Sponsors of Terrorist List if Pyongyang agreed to a comprehensive verification protocol proposed at the last six-nation talks aimed at disbanding the state's atomic weapons arsenal.

But Pyongyang wanted the United States to remove it from the blacklist first as part of what it called an "action-for-action" plan.

Details of how the talks progressed were not immediately available late on Friday.

The United States reportedly wants full access by inspectors to all nuclear sites and verification to cover not just North Korea's plutonium program -- which fuelled an atomic test in October 2006 -- but also an alleged secret uranium enrichment program and proliferation activities.

North Korea has been negotiating since 2003 with South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan on disbanding its atomic program in return for energy aid and diplomatic and security guarantees.

It has already shut down its main nuclear reactor and is disabling it as part of the six-nation agreement.

An agreement on verifying its nuclear program plan will pave the way for dismantling North Korea's nuclear network as well as the surrender of atomic material and weapons.

Last month, Pyongyang handed over a declaration of its plutonium production program but did not answer US allegations about its nuclear proliferation to Syria, or claims of an enriched uranium weapons program.

It merely acknowledged in a separate document US concerns about the uranium and proliferation issues and assured it was not engaged in such activities and would not be involved in them in the future.

The meeting Friday came four days after North Korea accused Washington of not honoring the six-nation denuclearization deal.

KCNA said "the United States has not kept its promise to remove us from the list of 'states sponsoring terrorism' up until today, past the deadline... which is crucial to the complete implementation of the agreement.

"This is a clear violation of the 'action for action' principle which is the basis for the realization of denuclearization," it said, adding that US behavior demonstrated "a lack of faith."

Under legal procedures, the earliest Washington could have removed North Korea from the terrorism list was August 11.

Source: AFP

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