PYONGYANG, North Korea — North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator said that Pyongyang may be willing to offer proof that it does not have a uranium-based weapons program, which the United States claims it does.
The apparently conciliatory gesture from Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Kwan comes ahead of a planned resumption of six-party talks at the end of the month aimed at getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program.
North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have been taking part in those talks.
One of the most contentious issues at the negotiations has been Washington’s claim that North Korea has a secret uranium weapons program in addition to its declared plutonium one.
In a rare interview with CNN in the North Korean capital, Kim repeated Pyongyang’s denial that it has a uranium-based program. But in a hint to the United States that North Korea is willing to compromise, he said the issue was open to negotiation.
“We don’t have any uranium-based weapons program, but in the future if there is any kind of evidence that needs to be clarified we will be fully prepared to do so.” he said.
Kim also said North Korea wants to pursue a peaceful nuclear program and is willing to adopt “strict supervision” of its nuclear facilities.
“As we resolve the nuclear issue we are willing to return to the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty) and fully abide by IAEA (U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards.
Pyongyang ordered U.N. nuclear inspectors out of the country in December 2002, and pulled out of the NPT the following month.
“If someone is concerned with regard to our possible nuclear activities which could lead up to the manufacture of nuclear weapons out of the operations of a light-water nuclear reactor, then we can leave the operations under strict supervision,” Kim said.
“The U.S. itself can have direct participation or the U.S. can pick a nation that they trust.”
However, Kim said his country would not bend on the key issue that has stalled the talks — it will not obey any directive to abandon all of its nuclear programs, including one for nuclear energy.
“We would like to pursue peaceful nuclear energy power generation and this is a quite urgent issue that faces our nation,” Kim said. “And this is a very appropriate policy in light of the economic situation of our country. That is why we cannot make a concession in this field.”
Kim said that Pyongyang was looking carefully at what appears to be the Bush administration’s recent conciliatory tone and said he would bring a sincere and business-like attitude to the next round of talks. But he warned that any U.S. attempt to promote a change of regime in North Korea was destined to fail.
After meeting for 13 straight days, diplomats from the six countries involved decided last weekend to take a recess.
The six-party talks are scheduled to resume on August 29.
In an effort to promote a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, CNN founder Ted Turner and a small delegation from his Nuclear Threat Initiative arrived in North Korea Saturday for a two-day visit.
Turner’s visit will focus on environmental issues and he is looking into the possibility of turning the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, into a peace park.
After his visit to North Korea, Turner plans to stop in South Korea for a conference.