WASHINGTON – North Korea (search) apparently is willing to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, with a breakthrough possible in the current round of international talks, South Korea's foreign minister said Sunday.
Ban Ki-moon, in Washington to see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials this week about the nuclear standoff, raised the possibility that the North might be able to pursue "peaceful" nuclear activities in the future.
North Korea first must dismantle all its nuclear weapons and end its development programs, return to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search) and comply fully with safeguards from the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, Ban told CNN's "Late Edition."
"Then the trust will be restored and the talks for a peaceful use of the nuclear energy should be opened," he said.
The Bush administration, however, wants the communist nation to be nuclear-free.
"We don't really feel they need to get involved with nuclear energy in the future," the chief U.S. envoy to the talk, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (search), said last week.
The latest round of talks are set to resume Aug. 29 in Beijing after a three-week break. Participants include the Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.
Ban acknowledged the need for close discussions, particularly with the United States, over letting the North pursue such nuclear activities.
"At this time, we think that when it comes to peaceful uses, like medical or industrial purposes, we should have no problem in that," he said.
The minister contended that South Korea and the United States "are on the same page" on this issue. "We do not have that much difference on that point."
North Korean officials, in Beijing and Seoul, have said "it is the legacy" of their country's founding president, the late Kim Il Sung, and "the will of the highest authorities of North Korea to realize denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Ban said.
"It seems to us" that the current leader, Kim Jong Il (search), apparently has decided to abandon the North's nuclear weapons programs and "we are working for that through negotiations," Ban said.
Citing progress in the recent talks, Ban said: "We have entered into a stage of real and substantive negotiations. ... I think we are more or less optimistic that we'll be able to result in substantive resolution of the nuclear weapons program this time."
Ban also discussed a newspaper report Sunday that said North Korea restarted a nuclear reactor before it returned to the multinational talks in July.
Japan's Asahi Shimbun said that a U.S. reconnaissance satellite detected steam coming from a boiler connected to a nuclear reactor building.
"I haven't had confirmed information on this matter," Ban said, adding that South Korea is closely monitoring and exchanging information with Washington.
"However, as we have agreed during the six-party talks the last time, the participating countries, particularly North Korea should not make any measures, actions which may aggravate the ongoing discussion on nuclear issues," Ban said.