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Analysis: N. Korea to return to nuke talks

By LEE JONG-HEON, UPI Correspondent

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- North Korea Wednesday said it would return to the long-stalled multilateral talks on its nuclear drive, reviving hope of a diplomatic resolution to the deepening nuclear crisis.

But prospects are not good, as the nuclear-armed North is expected to seek bigger concessions from the U.S.-led allies and to try and use the negotiations to buy time to make more atomic bombs and ease U.N.-imposed sanctions.

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In a statement, the North's Foreign Ministry said Pyongyang would rejoin the six-party talks on its nuclear programs on the condition that its financial concerns would be addressed in the negotiations.

"The DPRK (North Korea) decided to return to the six-party talks on the premise that the issue of lifting financial sanctions will be discussed and settled between the DPRK and the United States within the framework of the six-party talks," the ministry said, adding the decision was made at a three-way meeting in Beijing Tuesday with China and the United States.

But the North defended its Oct. 9 nuclear test as a "self-defensive" measure to cope with the U.S. nuclear threat, indicating Pyongyang would not give up its nuclear ambitions before Washington moved to ease its security concerns.

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North Korea "took a self-defensive counter-measure against the U.S. daily increasing nuclear threat and financial sanctions against it," said the statement carried by the North's state-run Central News Agency.

South and North Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have held five rounds of six-way talks to resolve the nuclear tension since the eruption of the dispute in late 2002, but little progress has been made. The latest meeting was held in November in Beijing.

The North's decision to join the six-party talks represents an about-face from its earlier position.

The country had said it would not return to the six-party talks until the United States lifted sanctions on the Banco Delta Asia which were believed to have blocked Pyongyang's cash flow, a demand rejected by the United States, which said the financial issue must be separated from the nuclear talks.

Pyongyang has boycotted the six-party talks since late last year, when the United States slapped restrictions on the Macau-based bank accused of laundering money for North Korea.

Under the U.S. measure, BDA froze $24 million of North Korea's holdings in some 50 accounts and cut off transactions with the communist country, a move believed to have been financially devastating for Pyongyang.

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South Korea welcomed the North's decision to return to the six-party talks as a move to ease the nuclear crisis and military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

"The government welcomes the North's agreement on the resumption of the six-way (talks)," Seoul's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

South Korea hopes the resumed six-nation talks will occur shortly, and pave the way for the denuclearization of the peninsula, it said. A ministry official said the next round of talks is likely to take place as early as next week.

But many analysts in Seoul remain doubtful the resumed talks will bear fruit.

"As a nuclear-armed state, the North is expected to demand (to) change the six-nation talks into an overall arms reduction negotiation that would deal (with) the reduction of the United States' nuclear arsenal," said Nam Sung-wook, a North Korea specialist at Korea University in Seoul.

After the North declared itself a nuclear power last year, it called for nuclear disarmament talks with the United States.

Nam and other analysts say the North is also expected to call for separate direct negotiations with the United States under the framework of six-party talks to discuss U.S.-led financial sanctions on the North.

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"The North is likely to try to win more concessions other than the lifting of financial sanctions," Nam said, adding it is part of the North's tactics to put the ball back in Washington's court.

Buoyed by the North's move, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun vowed to press ahead with his policy of engaging North Korea, despite criticism by the conservative camp.

On Wednesday, Roh named Lee Jae-joung, former lawmaker of the ruling Uri Party, as unification minister, replacing Lee Jong-seok, who stepped down in the wake of the North's nuclear test.

Lee Jae-joung is a strong advocate of "sunshine" policy of peaceful engagement with the North and opposed to any tough measures against the communist neighbor.

In addition to the resumption of the six-party talks, Roh is seeking summit talks with the United States, China, Japan and Russia on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit slated for Nov. 18-19 in Vietnam to discuss the North's nuclear standoff.

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