North Korea agrees to US nuclear visit

North Korea has agreed to allow a US delegation to visit a nuclear complex at the centre of a diplomatic standoff.

    North Korea wants security guarantees from the US

    The USA Today newspaper reported the visit to

    Yongbyong, scheduled for 6-10 January, had been approved by the

    administration of US President George Bush.

    And South Korea confirmed the deal on Friday, raising hopes in

    Seoul of a breakthrough in a long-running nuclear dispute.

    "The report is true, but we don't know what the US delegation

    will do in North Korea," an South Korean official said

    .

    The first foreigners to visit North Korea's nuclear facilities

    since the communist state expelled UN inspectors a year ago, the US

    delegation includes a top nuclear scientist and a China expert from

    Stanford University.

    It also includes two US Senate foreign police aides and a former

    State Department official who has negotiated with Pyongyang.

    US delegation 

    According to USA Today, the nuclear scientist on the delegation

    is Sig Hecker, who from 1985-1997 directed the Los Alamos National

    Laboratory where the atomic bomb was first developed.

    The news follows North Korea's recent

    announcement that it is ready to join

    delayed six-nation talks on the crisis sparked by its drive for

    nuclear weapons in October 2002.

    Yonhap news agency in Seoul quoted an unidentified South Korean

    government official as saying the North Korean move could mark a

    turning point in the standoff.

    "Consistent is our principled stand to seek a negotiated

    peaceful solution to the nuclear issue...

    But we will always react with the toughest policy

    to the US hardline policy of totally denying and threatening the

    dignified idea and system of our style"

    North Korean statement

    "This is a strong signal from North Korea that it has no

    intention to escalate the crisis any further," he said

    .

    While vowing to continue its diplomatic arm-wrestling with the

    United States, Pyongyang said in a New Year message that it

    was ready to peacefully resolve its nuclear crisis.

    "Consistent is our principled stand to seek a negotiated

    peaceful solution to the nuclear issue between the DPRK (North

    Korea) and the US.

    Security guarantees

    "But we will always react with the toughest policy

    to the US hardline policy of totally denying and threatening the

    dignified idea and system of our style."

    The North Koreans added they would take the "toughest" measures unless

    Washington changed its stance towards Pyongyang.

    The first round of six-way talks ended inconclusively in Beijing

    in August, with North Korea later dismissing the negotiations as

    "useless".

    The second round had been expected in Beijing this month but was

    pushed back due to differences over the steps needed

    towards a settlement.

    Washington has demanded that Pyongyang unilaterally scrap its

    nuclear programme, but North Korea has insisted on a legally binding

    security guarantee from the United States in return for a nuclear

    climbdown.

    SOURCE: AFP


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