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All Headlines 14:14 July 30, 2009

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

North Korea Calls for New Dialogue on Its Nuclear Programs

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea on July 27 demanded a new form of dialogue to resolve the stalemate over its nuclear program and reiterated it won't return to the six-party talks in an apparent call on the United States to open bilateral contact.

Washington has been unresponsive to Pyongyang's reported desire for one-on-one talks. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a media interview on July 26, "We still want North Korea to come back to the negotiating table" that also involves South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

South Korea said it is "not opposed" to bilateral dialogue between North Korea and the U.S., asserting Seoul and Washington have a close alliance.

Pyongyang's statement marks a rare expression of willingness to talk after the country escalated tensions in recent months with its nuclear weapons test and a series of banned missile tests.

In a statement from its foreign ministry spokesman, North Korea said the six-party talks are now dead and should be replaced with a new form of dialogue. "There is a specific and reserved form of dialogue that can address the current situation," the unidentified spokesman said.

The spokesman did not specify what the new form is, but North Korea is known to have long favored bilateral contact with the U.S., an arrangement that can result in deals being made more quickly than when the North has to deal with all the other regional countries.

After an ASEAN security forum urged Pyongyang to return to the six-party talks last week, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, Sin Son-ho, suggested Pyongyang wants direct talks with Washington. "The six-party talks are gone forever," he told reporters in New York on July 24. However, he said that "we are not against dialogue. We are not against any negotiation for the issues of common concern."

Clinton did not take to the proposal. "We still want North Korea to come back to the negotiating table, to be part of an international effort that will lead to denuclearization," she said on an NBC television program, returning from the ASEAN forum. Clinton also described North Korea as "very isolated now."

South Korea joined the U.S. call for six-party talks, but noted it does not oppose a bilateral approach. "We hope that North Korea will return to the six-way talks at an early date," Seoul's foreign ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young said at a press briefing. "We are not opposed to dialogue between North Korea and the U.S."

With the latest statement, North Korea also said the U.S. and its allies are misleading the international community about why the six-party forum came to an end. "The six-party talks were consequently reduced to a platform for blocking even the DPRK's (North Korea) development of science and technology for peaceful purposes and curbing the normal progress of its economy," the spokesman said.

North Korea withdrew from the talks in April after the U.N. Security Council condemned its long-range rocket launch with a resolution imposing sanctions. North Korea described the U.N. action as unfair, claiming the launch was for the purpose of orbiting a satellite, and that other nations have not been punished for the same deed. South Korea, the U.S. and Japan viewed the launch as a disguised missile test. "This is the essence and the background of the current state of affairs, which the countries that are not parties to the six-party talks should understand," he said.

The six-party talks began in 2003 to seek ways of terminating the North's nuclear weapons program. The last round in December ended with no progress amid disputes on how to verify the North's past nuclear activities.

In a separate article, the North's party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, rejected U.S. logic that North Korea's nuclear program should never be allowed, as it would trigger a chain reaction in the region. The paper said the U.S. nuclear protection of South Korea and Japan is more likely to prompt a war.

"Danger of war will increase only when one of the two hostile parties is armed with nuclear weapons or protected by a 'nuclear umbrella' while the other remains defenseless, having none of them. The DPRK's access to nukes helped keep a nuclear balance in Northeast Asia even in the least, thus making it possible to deter a war," the paper claimed.

Clinton also said the U.S. will neither accept any "half measures" nor reward "their behavior," referring to the North's provocations in recent months, including its second nuclear test in May after one in 2006, a barrage of medium- and short-range missile firings and threats to end the six-party talks and stage a nuclear war.

The provocations resulted in the U.N. Security Council imposing financial sanctions, an overall arms embargo and cargo interdictions on the high seas to prevent proliferation of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction, banned under a U.N. resolution adopted after the North's May 25 nuclear test.

Speaking to reporters in Phuket, Thailand, last week, North Korean Ambassador Ri Hung-sik said, "The six-party talks are already dead" due to Washington's "hostile policy" toward Pyongyang, and dismissed as "nonsense" Clinton's statement that "full normalization of relations, a permanent peace regime, and significant energy and economic assistance are all possible in the context of full and verifiable denuclearization."

In the interview with NBC, Clinton expressed satisfaction with China's attitude toward the North, which she described as "extremely positive and productive."

China, North Korea's staunchest communist ally, is considered key to the implementation of any sanctions on North Korea that relies heavily on its communist neighbor for energy, food and other items.

Beijing has been regarded as lukewarm in implementing previous sanctions under U.N. resolutions against North Korea so as not to provoke the North for fear of being flooded with refugees and any contingencies that may destabilize regional security at a time crucial for China, which is trying to emerge as a major economic power in the coming decades.

On July 28, the U.S. and China reaffirmed their agreement to seek North Korea's denuclearization through multilateral talks, despite Pyongyang's rejection of them and insistence on bilateral negotiations with Washington.

How to address the North Korean nuclear issue was high on the agenda at the two-day Strategic Economic Dialogue between the two world powers, which ended July 28 in the U.S. capital.

In a joint statement, Beijing and Washington said they had "affirmed the importance of the Six-Party Talks and continuing efforts to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and maintaining peace and stability of the Peninsula and Northeast Asia."

"They emphasized the importance of implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 and resolving the nuclear issue on the Peninsula through peaceful means," the statement said. "Both sides agreed to step up their efforts for the early realization of the above-mentioned goals."

Appearing at a joint press availability, Clinton said that she was satisfied with the discussion she had with State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who "has been very involved in North Korean policy in China for many years" and "has a depth of understanding and appreciation for the difficulties of dealing with the North Korean government."

In the opening session of the U.S.-China dialogue, U.S. President Barack Obama sought China's help in denuclearizing North Korea. "Neither America nor China has an interest in a terrorist acquiring a bomb, or a nuclear arms race breaking out in East Asia," Obama said.

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