N. Korea pledges to drop nuclear arms

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The Independent Online

North Korea pledged today to drop its nuclear weapons development and rejoin international arms treaties.

The announcement came after a unanimous agreement with other countries at arms talks in Beijing, in the first-ever joint statement in more than two years of negotiations.

According to the agreement by the six countries at the talks, North Korea "committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date" to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. This means Pyongyang has agreed to inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog.

In return, that statement said that "the United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade (North Korea) with nuclear or conventional weapons."

North Korea and United States also pledged in the agreement to respect each other's sovereignty and right to peaceful coexistence, and also to take steps to normalise relations.

The statement added: "The six parties unanimously reaffirmed that the goal of the six-party talks is the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner."

Negotiators agreed to further talks in November, where they were expected to move on to concrete discussions about implementing the broad principles outlined in Monday's agreement. The main US envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, has warned that could still be a long process.

The negotiations had been deadlocked over North Korea's demand that it retain the right to civilian nuclear programs after it disarms, and the statement acknowledges the North has made such an assertion but doesn't go beyond that.

North Korea had also demanded that it be given a light-water nuclear reactor at the latest talks — a type less easily diverted for weapons use — but Washington had said it and other countries at the talks wouldn't meet that request.

Putting aside the question for now, the joint statement said: "the other parties expressed their respect and agreed to discuss at an appropriate time the subject of the provision of light-water reactor" to North Korea.

North Korea has also refused to totally disarm without getting concessions along the way, while Washington has said it wants to see the weapons programs totally dismantled before granting rewards. The statement, however, says the sides agreed to take steps to implement the agreement "in a phased manner in line with the principle of 'commitment for commitment, action for action."'

The other countries at the talks said they were willing give energy assistance to the North, including a South Korean plan to deliver electricity across the heavily armed border dividing the peninsula.

"This is the most important result since the six-party talks started more than two years ago," said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, Beijing's envoy.

The talks, which began in August 2003, include China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas.

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