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N Korea tends nuclear olive branch

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has said his country is ready to impose a nuclear test and production moratorium if international talks on its atomic programme resume, in Pyongyang's latest effort to restart long-stalled aid-for-disarmament talks.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Mr Kim's reported gesture at a summit with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev will satisfy the most sceptical of the five other nations at talks meant to end the North's nuclear weapons ambitions - the United States, South Korea and Japan.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that Kim Jong Il's reported offer to refrain from nuclear and missile tests was "a welcome first step" but not enough to restart six-party disarmament talks.

Mr Kim, at the summit in eastern Siberia, reportedly made no mention of an issue that lies at the heart of negotiators' worries: North Korea's recently revealed uranium enrichment programme.

Mr Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency as saying that Kim expressed readiness to return to the nuclear talks without preconditions, and, "in the course of the talks, North Korea will be ready to resolve the question of imposing a moratorium on tests and production of nuclear missile weapons".

Ms Nuland said that North Korea's disclosure of a uranium enrichment facility last November "remains a matter of serious concern" that violates UN resolutions and commitments Pyongyang had made on denuclearisation in 2005.

"We will not go back to six-party talks until North Koreans are prepared to meet all of the commitments that we've all laid out," Ms Nuland told a news conference in Washington.

The North's state media confirmed that Mr Kim and Mr Medvedev agreed that the nuclear disarmament talks should be resumed without any precondition to achieve a denuclearisation on the Korean peninsula.

A dispatch by the Korean Central News Agency, however, did not mention Mr Kim's reported offer to freeze nuclear tests.


From Belfast Telegraph