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N.K. says to discuss uranium program

North Korea is willing to discuss its uranium enrichment program within the framework of multinational denuclearization talks, its official media said Tuesday, as regional powers continue their tug-of-war over when and how to resume the stalled dialogue.

North Korea can “come to the six-party talks without any preconditions and does not oppose discussing the uranium enrichment issue,” its representative told a visiting senior diplomat from Russia, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin was in Pyongyang for a four-day trip that ended Monday, it said.

Pyongyang’s recent proposal appears to indicate the communist state’s growing urgency to resume dialogue with regional powers including South Korea and the U.S. to earn much needed aid of food and fuel.

While Pyongyang’s traditional allies China and Russia are keen to immediately resume the talks, Seoul and Washington have been escalating efforts to first have the U.N. Security Council condemn the uranium program as one of the preconditions.

South Korea also demands the North’s apology for the two deadly attacks it made last year. The six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia have been stalled since December 2008.

North Korea, which conducted two atomic tests and three long-range missile tests in the past, disclosed a sophisticated uranium enrichment facility to outside experts in November, sparking renewed concerns about its ongoing nuclear ambitions. Uranium enrichment would provide North Korea with an additional way of making atomic bombs, second to its known plutonium-based program.

Pyongyang’s willingness to bring up the uranium program in the six-party talks is “not enough to prove its earnestness to disarm” under its previous pledge in 2009, a Seoul official said.

“As we have repeated, words don’t have any meaning unless they are taken into action,” the official said, asking not to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media on the issue.

Meanwhile, Seoul’s vice nuclear envoy Cho Hyun-dong left for talks with his Russian counterparts late Tuesday, apparently hoping to secure Moscow’s strong support in taking Pyongyang’s uranium program to the U.N. Security Council and standing firm about the communist state’s provocations.

Meeting with officials including Borodavkin in Moscow, Cho will discuss regional issues including Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions, Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said.

Washington also remained wary about North Korea’s intentions, amid the communist state’s growing nuclear and missiles threats.

Adm. Mike Mullen, head of Washington’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he “worries a great deal” about North Korea deploying intercontinental ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, according to a transcript released by the Pentagon this week.

News reports have said Pyongyang may be digging a new tunnel in preparation for a third nuclear test and has completed construction of a launch site to test-fire a ballistic missile that can reach the U.S.

Washington also recently classified North Korea as the main exporter of weapons of mass destruction to Middle Eastern nations such as Iran and Syria, Radio Free Asia reported.

The declaration was made by the Director of National Intelligence in its report to Congress last month, the U.S.-funded station said.

Taking part in the international Conference on Disarmament, North Korea pledged to “keep to international obligations as a responsible nuclear power,” repeating its claim as a possessor of nuclear weapons.

Washington and Seoul do not officially recognize Pyongyang as a nuclear power.

North Korea will “also continue efforts to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and ultimately abolish nuclear arms from the world,” its representative said during the conference, according to the KCNA.

By Shin Hae-in and news reports (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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