USS Pueblo, the US spy ship, has become one of North Korea's top tourist attractions

 

The USS Pueblo, captured off the coast of North Korea in 1968, is a symbol of the deep mistrust between North Korea and the United States.

 

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Watch Tony Cheng's report on relations between the US and North Korea

It was, say the North Koreans, a spy boat monitoring ship movements and military transmission from just off the coast.

 

It is a conclusion that the coding equipment on board – high technology for its time and much of it labelled "top secret" - would seem to support.

 

Today, the Pueblo is one of the North Korean capital's top tourist attractions and, for its propaganda chiefs, a trophy of US aggression.

 

Despite unexpected progress at talks on North Korea's nuclear programme and talk from US president George Bush of a formal end to the Korean War, the Pueblo remains a symbol of the tense relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

 

'Aggressive'

 

The US still maintains an aggressive stance on
North Korea, says Pak In-ho
Captain Pak In-ho, one of the sailors who captured the ship almost 40 years ago, thinks today the US still hasn't changed.

 

"In the six-party talks they promised to stop their aggressive policy toward us," he says.

 

"But looking at a series of recent military exercises they actually have not stopped at all."

 

It is a sign of how much ordinary Koreans are suspicious of the United States.

 

North Korea remains a deeply isolated country with a government clinging to communist principles that have been abandoned elsewhere.

 

The country's leaders say the development of nuclear weapons is fundamentally important for defence purposes, fearing military action from the States.

 

But in an interview with Al Jazeera, they said they were still prepared to give up those weapons.

 

'Resolved'

 

Nuclear inspectors are trying to permanently
disable N Korea's weapons programme
"If the US stops its hostile policy against us, then the nuclear issue will be naturally resolved," said Yang Myong-song of the ministry of foreign affairs.

 

"Therefore we have been faithfully carrying out our efforts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula."

 

So will North Korea abandon all nuclear ambitions by the end of the year?

 

"We consider that as of today, all of the agreements signed on February 13 have been carried out," said Yang.

 

At the North's sole functioning nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, about 100km outside of Pyongyang, the process has started.

 

International inspectors were recently allowed in to see how to permanently disable the facility.

 

Although many are wary, the North Koreans seem to be keeping to their word.

 

"So far we don't have any evidence showing they cannot be trusted to keep their promises," says Professor Mei Ren Yi of Beijing's Foreign Language University.

 

"It promised that it would stop its nuclear facilities – they did that and they opened it to inspection. So in that sense they kept their promise".

 

Stumbling blocks

 

USS Pueblo stands as a stark reminder of
fragile relations between N Korea and the US
So far, so good. But there are plenty of potential stumbling blocks ahead.

 

There has been no talk yet of what to do with nuclear weapons that the North has already build or the facilities that produced them.

 

And there have already been disputes over interpreting existing agreements.

 

Floating in it's berth on the banks of Pyongyang's Taedong river, the Pueblo is a stark reminder that the fragile course of North Korea's relations with the US could go off the rails at any time.

 

Nonetheless, just under a year after the explosion of the North's first nuclear weapon, it seems we're closer than ever before to a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

Source: Al Jazeera