N Korea and US narrow differences: Pyongyang draws back a little on nuclear inspections as Russians join China in opposition to sanctions against Kim regime

North Korea and the US were last night on the verge of a breakthrough which could end the crisis over North Korea's nuclear programme. Bill Clinton said that talks between the US and North Korea might resume if it was confirmed that the North Koreans were prepared to freeze nuclear development while discussions went on.

Earlier yesterday North Korea reversed a decision to expel two international inspectors and has pledged to maintain surveillance equipment at its nuclear sites. After a meeting with President Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, the former US president, Jimmy Carter, urged a resumption of direct talks between the US and North Korea. The North Koreans also told Mr Carter that they wanted help from the US to finance a light-water reactor and the money to halt the construction of their new 200 megawatt reactor if they agreed to do that.

The light-water reactor is less well adapted to produce weapons-grade plutonium than the one under construction.

President Kim appears to be holding out for a package deal with the US in which the crisis over North Korea's nuclear programme would be resolved at the same time as relations between the US and North Korea normalised. The North Koreans also want financial aid and an end to economic isolation.

In Washington, President Clinton met his advisers to discuss developments. 'It is a very serious situation,' said the White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers. 'It is the most crucial foreign policy issue the President faces right now.'

The administration is eager to find a way out of the crisis that does not look like a climbdown. The difficulty of building a coalition to put pressure on North Korea was underlined yesterday by the opposition of Russia and China to sanctions, though it is unclear if this will lead to them vetoing the initially mild measures proposed by the US at the United Nations.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Andrei Kozyrev, said Moscow had not been consulted about the US proposals, and would not support any sanctions motion drawn up without its agreement. The Russians have been pressing for an international conference on the North Korean issue. While Mr Kozyrev stopped short of threatening to veto the motion, the Interfax news agency quoted him as saying: 'We agreed unambiguously to work together on a draft resolution, which on the one hand would allow for sanctions and on the other hand the organisation of an international conference.' Washington's initiative, he said, would 'seriously hamper the work of the UN Security Council'. China, meanwhile, emphasised that its friendship treaty with Pyongyang remained in force.

Speaking after his meeting with North Korea's chain- smoking leader yesterday, Mr Carter said the 82-year-old President Kim appeared to be in good health. Other visitors say he seems fully in control. At an earlier meeting with Selig Harrison of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, President Kim said: 'We don't have any nuclear weapons or any intention of making them. It gives me a headache when people demand to see something we don't have. It's like dogs barking at the moon.'

The North Korean leader went on to deny that there would be any point in 'our making one or two nuclear weapons when you have 10,000-plus delivery systems that we don't have. We would be a laughing-stock.'

He said North Korea did not have the money to switch to light-water reactors, which cost dollars 2bn to dollars 3bn ( pounds 1.4bn to pounds 2bn) but if assisted to obtain one, 'we are ready to suspend the development of our radiochemical laboratory (reprocessing plant) and the 200 megawatt reactor'.

Last July North Korea offered to switch reactors as part of a package deal but had not previously promised to freeze its nuclear programme for the six years it would take to obtain and build a light-water reactor. After talks in Pyongyang, Mr Harrison said he discounted North Korean threats of war if sanctions are imposed but a naval blockade would lead to some form of military retaliation. North Korea is expected to test the Rodong 1 missile in the near future as a demonstration of military strength.

(Photograph and map omitted)

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone