Envoys hold talks over Korean nuclear claim

Top nuclear envoys from South Korea and the US held talks today on a strategy to bring North Korea back to disarmament negotiations, a day after the North claimed to have succeeded in experimental uranium enrichment.

US special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, and South Korean envoy Wi Sung-lac made no comments after their meeting. Bosworth later met with South Korea's unification minister in charge of relations with North Korea.

Bosworth said in Beijing yesterday that any nuclear development in North Korea was a matter of concern.

"We confirm the necessity to maintain a co-ordinated position and the need for a complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula," he said.

North Korea's claim that it is in the final stages of enriching uranium raises the possibility that it might do that to its stockpile of bombs made from plutonium. Uranium offers an easier way to make nuclear weapons.

North Korea also said it is continuing to weaponise plutonium.

Washington shows no signs of easing pressure on North Korea through sanctions, although the North has also recently made a series of conciliatory gestures, including the release of two detained American journalists and a reported invitation to top US envoys, including Bosworth, to visit Pyongyang.

"We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions," the North said in a letter to the UN Security Council.

If some members of the council put "sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue," it said.

The North warned it would be left with no choice but to take "yet another strong self-defensive countermeasure" if the standoff continues. It did not elaborate.

A pro-North Korean newspaper in Japan urged the US to hold talks with the North to make the Korean peninsula nuclear-free, saying Pyongyang's next steps will depend on how Washington reacts to its latest moves.

The Choson Sinbo newspaper, widely seen as a mouthpiece for North Korea, said time is not "limitless" for the US to decide whether to hold talks or continue to pursue sanctions.

US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the North's announcement was troubling.

"We are very concerned by these claims that they are moving closer to the weaponisation of nuclear materials, but I can't really comment on the veracity, how true these claims are," Kelly said.

The US and other Security Council members have been focusing on implementation of a resolution that imposed sanctions on the North's weapons exports and financial dealings, and allowed inspections of suspect cargo in ports and on the high seas.

The US has pressed for North Korea to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program. The North pulled out of the negotiations with the US, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan after the council criticised its April rocket launch.

North Korea said later it won't return to the negotiations and will only talk one-on-one with the Obama administration.

Bosworth said that the US is willing to have direct talks with the North, but only within the framework of the six-nation disarmament talks.