Thursday, September 01, 2005

China says N Korea entitled to nuclear power / World / Asia-Pacific - China says N Korea entitled to nuclear power

By Anna Fifield in Seoul
Published: September 1 2005 12:39 | Last updated: September 1 2005 12:39

China on Thursday intensified the pressure on the US to extend some trust to North Korea, backing Pyongyang’s right to a peaceful nuclear energy programme once it dismantles its weapons and returns to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Coming during an extended recess in the six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to relinquish its atomic weapons, Beijing’s support for Pyongyang’s civilian aims follows a similar assertion from South Korea and is in sharp contrast to the US’s position.

Zhang Yan, director-general of arms control in the Chinese foreign ministry, said on Thursday Pyongyang would be entitled to a civilian nuclear power programme once it fulfilled its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

“According to relevant rules of the NPT, a country could enjoy certain rights if it assumes due obligations,” Mr Zhang told a press conference when asked if North Korea should be allowed to maintain a light water reactor to produce electricity.

“In this sense, if a country joins the treaty and accepts the supervision of safety guarantee by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear power peacefully,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

Chung Dong-yong, South Korea’s unification minister, has already said North Korea has a “general right” to nuclear energy.

After almost two weeks of discussions last month during the fourth round of six-party talks, the negotiations faltered over the energy issue. The US wants North Korea to abandon all nuclear programmes, civilian and military, because it alleges Kim Jong-il’s regime breached a previous agreement not to pursue nuclear weapons.

The talks were due to resume in Beijing this week but have been postponed, probably until the middle of the month, as diplomats try to make headway on the energy issue.

But Ban Ki-moon, South Korea’s foreign minister, said it was premature to discuss a peaceful nuclear programme as North Korea had still not agreed to the key goal of dismantling its atomic weapons. “We have other important differences to address,” he said in Seoul on Thursday.

Of his visit to Washington last week, where he met Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, Mr Ban said: “We came to a common understanding that the scope of nuclear dismantlement and peaceful use of nuclear energy should not overshadow the talks as if they are the only remaining problems.”

Christopher Hill, the US’s chief negotiator to the talks, last week said North Korea’s desire for a civilian nuclear programme was not a “showstopper” because it was still theoretical at this stage.


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