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north korea invites u.s. nuclear envoy to pyongyang

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North Korea Invites U.S. Nuclear Envoy to Pyongyang

   


   
SEOUL, South Korea (June 1) - North Korea on Thursday invited the chief U.S. nuclear envoy to visit the communist nation if Washington proves its commitment to an agreement last year in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill has previously expressed a desire to visit the North if it would help restart the six-nation arms negotiations, although he has said many factors would determine if such a trip could be made.

"If the United States has made a political decision to truly carry out the joint declaration, (we) again invite the head U.S. delegate in the six-party talks to visit Pyongyang and directly explain (it) to us," an unnamed spokesman for the North's Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The joint declaration refers to a September agreement in which the North pledged to abandon its nuclear development in exchange for aid and security guarantees. No progress has since been made on implementing the pact, and the arms talks haven't been held since November.

The two sides have made other contacts, including meetings between diplomats in New York and encounters in China and Japan.

Pyongyang has refused to return to talks until Washington lifts financial restrictions against the communist nation for alleged illegal activity, including counterfeiting. The United States says the issues are unrelated and that the North should return without conditions.

In its statement, Pyongyang accused the United States of "shunning contacts" with the North, and repeated its call for a relaxation of U.S. financial restrictions as a condition for the country's return to the six-nation talks.

"If the United States increases pressure while antagonizing us, we cannot but take super hardline steps to safeguard our right to survive and sovereignty," the North said.

Top U.S. State Department officials were in Austria on Thursday for meetings on the Iranian nuclear crisis and were unavailable for comment.

   


   
The United States engaged in direct talks with North Korea that led to a 1994 agreement on halting the North's nuclear development in exchange for acquiring two nuclear reactors and other aid. Then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also visited the North in October 2000 _ the highest-level American official ever to travel to the country.

The two nations don't have formal diplomatic relations.

But U.S. officials say the North admitted in late 2002 to a new secret uranium enrichment program, prompting Washington to abandon the earlier nuclear deal. Since then, the United States has pursued diplomacy with the North through nuclear talks hosted by China that include Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas.

On Wednesday, the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union formally shut down a New York-based reactor project from the 1994 deal.

The South Korean Unification Ministry, which is in charge of dealings with the North, lamented the end of the project to build the light-water reactors, which are believed to be difficult to divert for the production of weapons-grade uranium.

But Japan blamed North Korea, saying it violated the spirit of the program long ago.

"I think we can say the significance of the project was already lost," Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe said at a regular news conference in Tokyo.


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