A high-level North Korean official said his nation was willing to move “simultaneously” on provisions of this week’s agreement to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, in what appears to be a step back from efforts to put conditions on the accord.
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon told the U.N. General Assembly that the United States should provide light-water reactors to North Korea “as soon as possible” to prove its recognition of the country’s right to generate nuclear energy.
But speaking later to reporters at the North Korean mission, he said that the disarmament could occur in parallel, and did not insist on receiving the reactors first.
He added that it was “illogical” for one side to wait for the other to move first. “All the issues should be resolved on the basis of simultaneous actions,” he said.
The U.S. opposes allowing North Korea to have a light-water reactor before its nuclear disarmament is verified.
Choe also said that North Korea would welcome a visit by U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill if he came “with an intention of resolving the nuclear issue.”
Choe’s statements seemed aimed at quelling doubts about the landmark accord reached Monday in Beijing, in which the Pyongyang government agreed to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for aid, security guarantees and greater diplomatic recognition.
A day later, North Korean officials sowed confusion by insisting they would keep nuclear weapons unless the U.S. gave their nation energy-producing civilian reactors.
That same day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed the doubts raised by Pyongyang as negotiating tactics.
“I think we’ll just stick with the text of the Beijing agreement to which the North Koreans signed on, and the text of the agreement says we’ll discuss a light-water reactor at an appropriate time,” she said at a news conference at the United Nations. “There were several statements afterwards that make clear what that sequence is.”
The six parties participating in talks, North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, are slated to resume negotiation in November.
Choe said there were no preconditions for resuming talks. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, he said, “committed itself to dismantling the existing nuclear weapon program, returning to the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and allowing the inspections” by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog.
The Chinese ambassador to the U.N., Wang Guangya, said Thursday that he was confident that North Korea would abide by Monday’s accord. “I believe things are on the right track,” he said. “There were different interpretations, but what was said in the joint agreement is clear.”
Choe also announced that North Korea had asked the U.N. to stop its emergency food aid program by the end of the year, and to focus instead on development assistance.
“The overall humanitarian situation has improved considerably,” he said.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan confirmed the request, and his spokesman said that humanitarian officials would discuss the next steps in coming days.
Since starting emergency aid in 1995, the World Food Program has distributed about 4 million tons of food worth $1.5 billion to North Koreans. In recent years, the program has annually fed an average of 6.5 million people, nearly a third of the country’s population.