Tuesday, August 23, 2005

U.S. says North Korea right to nuke power no deal-breaker

Politics News Article | Reuters.com

By Saul Hudson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. negotiator in talks on dismantling North Korea's suspected atomic arms program predicted on Tuesday the sides can overcome a key difference over Pyongyang's right to develop peaceful nuclear power.

"I think we can come up with something," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters. "But I cannot be more specific than that because we are in the middle of a negotiation."

The United States has differed with South Korea and Russia at six-party talks, which also include Japan and China, over North Korea's demand that it can have the right to eventually develop civilian nuclear programs for power generation.

But in what could be a crucial move to forge an agreement when talks are due to resume next week, Hill suggested the United States could be flexible.

In the past, Washington has insisted that even if North Korea scraps its military programs it must give up the right to develop peaceful nuclear power because of fears it could use those programs for building atomic weapons.

But Hill played down North Korea's demand. It was a "theoretical, downstream" issue and it would be difficult for North Korea to restart any nuclear development after it scraps its programs under a negotiated deal, he said.

"The issue for some of the partners is whether ... North Korea could then reclaim a right to nuclear energy," Hill said. "If you ask me, it's not exactly a showstopper issue -- the real issue is getting rid of all their nuclear programs."

Hill's softer line could anger hawkish officials in the Bush administration who have been skeptical of reaching a deal with North Korea and do not want to give the communist nation any chance of breaking an accord and making weapons.

A U.S. official, who asked not to be named because he was discussing the administration's internal divisions, said the United States was involved in a critical debate over whether to concede North Korea's right to nuclear power next week.

"In the past, it would have been dismissed as outrageous to even consider North Korea could have such a right. Now you see signs that it could be OK, because supposedly it's only a 'theoretical' right." he said. "The problem with that is theory can be put into practice swiftly and we are back where we started."

North Korea has said it broke a previous accord with the United States and used nuclear programs to develop weapons.


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