Report: North Korea May Disarm if U.S. Removes Nukes From South

North Korea may offer to dismantle its nuclear weapons program if the United States removes its nuclear weapons from South Korea and other countries in the region, a senior North Korean diplomat said Wednesday, the Interfax news agency reported.

The official also said North Korea was ready to return to the negotiating table on condition the issue of lifting U.S. economic sanctions would be discussed, according to the report.

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"In exchange for its nuclear disarmament, it (North Korea) will demand the withdrawal of the U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea and other countries of the region," Interfax quoted the unnamed official as saying.

The United States maintains military forces in South Korea, Japan and in the U.S. territory of Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean.

The official spoke to the China branch of the Interfax news agency and the report was datelined Hong Kong.

RIA-Novosti news agency, however, quoted an official representative of North Korea's Consulate General in Hong Kong as saying he doubted the veracity of such media reports.

At the same time, the unnamed official confirmed his country's stance that that were North Korea to disarm, other countries in the region should follow suit.

"The position of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is that the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula must not consist solely of the de-nuclearization of Democratic People's Republic of Korea," the official was quoted as saying by RIA-Novosti.

Interfax quoted its source as accusing the United States of stalling the resumption of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear arms program, saying its conditions were unacceptable for Pyongyang.

"As a result, the resumption of negotiations in December 2006 is impossible and if the position of the U.S. is unchanged -- in the future as well," the diplomat was quoted as saying.

The official also said North Korea was ready to get back to the negotiating table

if the United States observed conditions agreed upon in October.

"North Korea is willing to conduct negotiations on the basis of agreements achieved earlier," the official was quoted as saying. "This concerns the discussion of the lifting of the U.S. financial sanctions against it, a halt to Washington's hostile policy toward North Korea and excluding it from the axis of evil."

The six-party talks had been on hold since November 2005, with Pyongyang refusing to attend because of a U.S. campaign to cut off its access to international banks due to alleged illegal activity such as counterfeiting and money laundering.

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