Pressure mounts on North Korea over atomic weapons programmes

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The Independent Online

United States officials arrived in Seoul yesterday as pressure mounted on Washington to accept North Korea's offer to freeze its atomic weapons programmes.

United States officials arrived in Seoul yesterday as pressure mounted on Washington to accept North Korea's offer to freeze its atomic weapons programmes.

The delegation has already been shown the North's main nuclear complex at Yongbyon in a suspected attempt by the Communist regime to convince the US that it possesses nuclear weapons and to strengthen its negotiating powers.

Washington has previously rejected North Korea's offer of a freeze. But the US called Pyongyang's latest proposal a "positive step forward" and South Korea has welcomed the plan. Russia and China are trying to broker a compromise whereby a freeze would have to be in place before negotiations could begin. Chinese diplomats are expected to float the proposal next week in Washington.

The US delegation said it was shown everything it asked to see at the nuclear facility in Yongbyon, but would not give details. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the group had been shown recently reprocessed plutonium.

Jack Pritchard, a member of the delegation, urged Washington to accept Pyongyang's offer before North Korea strengthened its nuclear arsenal. Mr Pritchard, a former US State Department official, wrote in The Korea Herald on Friday: "It is urgently important that the United States stop the programme now before Pyongyang becomes a limited nuclear weapons state."

North Korea says it will freeze its nuclear programmes, if Washington lifts sanctions, resumes shipments of heavy oil and removes the North from the US State Department's list of terrorism-sponsoring countries. The US has demanded that North Korea first dismantle its nuclear programmes.

Two experts from the delegation, Keith Luze, a Republican aide, and Frank Jannuzi, a Democrat, were scheduled to meet South Korean Foreign Ministry officials today.

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