Envoys Aim to End N. Korea Nuke Stalemate

Envoys to talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program will try again to resolve the standoff, as the United States resists demands by the communist state for civilian nuclear reactors.

The main U.S. envoy says the key to a solution lie with Pyongyang (search).

"We know we are ready to sit down and negotiate and try to finish this thing," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (search) said Monday in Seoul, en route to Beijing for Tuesday's talks. "But the question is what (North Korea) has done during that one month."

Analysts say the North's insistence on a peaceful nuclear program isn't a tactic aimed at stalling the disarmament talks but a real concern of the regime as it tries to revive its economy.

The latest round of nuclear talks broke off for a recess early last month after 13 days of negotiations in which envoys failed to agree on a statement of principles laying a groundwork for dismantling the North's nuclear weapons programs.

The talks were to resume during the last week of August, but the North demanded a two-week postponement, taking issue with annual joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean troops and Washington's appointment of a special envoy on human rights in North Korea.

The nuclear negotiations themselves remained snarled over North Korea's assertion that it has a right to conduct peaceful nuclear activities, among other issues. Washington says the North's record of weapons development proves it cannot be trusted with any kind of nuclear program.

On Friday, Hill reiterated a set of measures — including energy aid offered by South Korea — that he said would make it unnecessary for North Korea "to go and develop additional capacity, especially through such very difficult and extremely expensive projects as nuclear energy."

But last week, the North reiterated that it was "unimaginable" that it would dismantle its nuclear power industry "without getting any proposal for compensating for the loss of nuclear energy."

North Korea suffers from chronic energy shortages and blackouts are common even in its capital. As of 2003, the North was able to generate less than 30 percent of its total capacity of 7.8 million kilowatts of electricity, according to South Korean government statistics.

"Economic development has been the regime's top priority since the mid-1990s," said Paik Hak-soon at the Sejong Institute in Seoul. "It's in a situation where it has to secure nuclear energy for economic recovery and development."

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search), or NPT, allows for countries that follow its provisions to get assistance with peaceful nuclear programs, and the North has said it could rejoin the treaty if the current standoff is resolved.

But with Washington against the North having a civilian nuclear program, Paik warned the communist regime would "not have any incentive whatsoever to return to the NPT" — a crucial step toward bringing the North under international monitoring of its nuclear activities.

While Washington tries to portray a united front with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia at the six-nation talks, several of those nations seem inclined to compromise.

South Korean officials, including President Roh Moo-hyun, have said North Korea would be able to pursue peaceful nuclear activities when it dismantles all its nuclear weapons programs, returns to the NPT and complies fully with safeguards from the United Nation's nuclear watchdog.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official also made similar comments earlier this month in Beijing.