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Nuclear talks off to cool start

IT DID not take long for the magnitude of Robert Gallucci's task to become evident. Mr Gallucci, the chief American negotiator, arrived at the North Korean mission on the Lake Geneva waterfront yesterday to find that his counterpart, Kang Sok Ju, was not, as promised, waiting outside to greet him.

The talks did, eventually, get under way and last night Mr Gallucci emerged to say the eight-hour meeting had been 'productive and useful'. If the opening gambit was any guide, it could be months before Pyongyang is ready to do a deal on its suspect nuclear programme. However, the two men did agree yesterday that the nuclear issue was central to US-North Korean relations.

It is nearly a year since Mr Gallucci, an Assistant Secretary of State, last met the North Koreans, and Pyongyang has used the interval to push ahead with its nuclear development.

An informed source said the Americans now want to concentrate on reducing the future threat from North Korea, leaving aside the question of how much plutonium the country already has. The US is also ready to help Pyongyang obtain light-water reactor technology, from which it is more difficult and expensive to extract weapons-grade plutonium, if it agrees to dismantle its existing reactors and reprocessing facilities.

There are broader proposals for economic aid and diplomatic recognition if North Korea submits to full international nuclear safeguards, but Washington is keen to show progress before its ally, President Kim Young Sam of South Korea, travels to Pyongyang later this month for to meet his counterpart, Kim Il Sung.

After a second day of talks at the US mission today, Mr Gallucci and Mr Kang are expected to meet next week.