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US Seeks New Steps by North Korea Before Talks Continue

By Michael Cooper
THE NEW YORK TIMES


HANOI, VIETNAM

The United States is working with China and other Asian allies to pressure North Korea to take a visible step toward dismantling its nuclear program before starting a new round of the long-running nuclear disarmament talks, American officials said Thursday.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that while she was hopeful the talks — begun in 2003 with numerous interruptions since — would restart in December, it is pointless to return to the bargaining table without a show of good faith from both sides.

Speaking to reporters in Hanoi after a breakfast meeting with some of her counterparts here for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting, Rice refused to expand on what exactly those steps would be, saying she did not want to pre-negotiate in the news media.

But American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said an acceptable move on North Korea’s part might be to dismantle one of its nuclear facilities and to readmit international inspectors.

American officials said they would like to see the dismantling begin with a facility like North Korea’s 5-megawatt reactor, which is continuing to produce nuclear fuel, or its plutonium reprocessing center, where spent reactor fuel can be turned into material for weapons. But they said it remained uncertain whether North Korea, which has so far evaded demands from the United States to begin dismantling its nuclear program, would agree.

“I do think that after setting off a nuclear test, the North Koreans need to do something to show they’re committed to denuclearization that goes beyond words and just saying that they’re committed to denuclearization,” Rice said, “because after having set off a nuclear test, I think there’s some skepticism about that.”

The disarmament talks have dragged on inconclusively for three years, and the chances for rolling back the country’s now-proven nuclear capability remain uncertain.

Two weeks ago, China announced that the six-nation talks would reconvene shortly after a hiatus of more than a year, and American officials said at the time that they would take place in November or December.

But Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, has participated in many rounds of talks over the past several years while he accelerated his pursuit of nuclear weapons.