North Korea nuclear crisis defused

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PRESIDENT Bill Clinton yesterday announced a breakthrough in the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapon programme after Pyongyang assured the US it would not reload its 5 megawatt reactor or reprocess fuel. It also agreed to allow inspectors to verify this.

In return, the US will end its efforts to persuade the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on North Korea. It will also resume talks with North Korea over both its nuclear programme and general relations with the US.

Mr Clinton said: 'These developments mark not a solution to the problem but they do mark a new opportunity to find a solution.' He made the announcement after the North Koreans officially confirmed an offer made to former president Jimmy Carter when he visited Pyongyang last week.

The North Koreans say they will meet three conditions set by the US. They will not reprocess spent plutonium already removed from their reactor, they will not refuel the reactor and they will permit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to remain on site.

It is not immediately clear if this will allow the IAEA to disover if the North Koreans removed some plutonium from the reactor in 1989 and therefore could, in theory, already have a nuclear bomb or the ability to build one.

Mr Clinton said diplomatic relations with North Korea were now possible. The US is prepared to talk about 'the full range of security, political and economic issues'. He also welcomed a summit between North Korean and South Korean leaders.

High-level talks between the US and the North Koreans would allow them 'to move with dignity into the international community,' Mr Carter said. A North Korean aim has always been to end the state of war with the US which has existed nominally since the Korean War ended in 1953. It also wants international recognition and access to international aid.

The end of the crisis is an important achievement for the Clinton administration which has been criticised for its feeble foreign policy. It has also had serious difficulty in mobilising other countries - notably China and Japan - to support sanctions in the UN Security Council.

A private visit by Mr Carter to Pyongyang last week, during which he had long meetings with the North Korean leader, Kim Il Sung, enabled the North Koreans to put forward a new combination of proposals. They included a freeze on construction of a new nuclear reactor.