North Korea says willing to discuss uranium enrichment
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Tuesday it was willing to discuss its uranium enrichment program at nuclear disarmament talks, clearing one of the hurdles for the resumption of long-stalled international dialogue.
Pyongyang walked out of six-party talks over two years ago, declaring the process dead, after the United Nations imposed a new round of sanctions for conducting nuclear and missile tests.
"(We) indicated the position that we can go to the six-way talks with no preconditions and we are not opposed to discussing the uranium enrichment issue at the six-party talks," the North's foreign ministry spokesman said according to KCNA news agency.
The North's comments were made during a meeting with Russian foreign ministry officials in Pyongyang, KCNA said.
Washington and Seoul have demanded the North come clean on its uranium program.
Last November, the North stunned the world with revelations of major advances in its uranium enrichment program which would open a second route to make a nuclear bomb alongside its plutonium program.
Pyongyang says the uranium program is for peaceful, energy-producing purposes.
The United States and South Korea have said they want the U.N. Security Council to review the North's uranium enrichment program, arguing it breaches international agreements.
China, a veto-wielding member of the Security and Pyongyang's main ally, is opposed to any U.N. action against the North.
During the tortuous six-party nuclear negotiations that began in 2003, North Korea and dialogue partners China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States reached agreements that would dismantle the North's nuclear weapons in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic recognition.
Those pacts fell apart before they were implemented and North Korea tested nuclear devices derived from plutonium twice, in 2006 and 2009.
Earlier this month, the United States said it was ready to talk to North Korea and resume humanitarian aid to the isolated state under the right conditions.
Stephen Bosworth, the State Department's special envoy for North Korea, told a Senate hearing that Washington was working to end the stalemate in six-nation talks.
"We do not regard regime change as the outcome of our policy, but we do regard a change in regime behavior as necessary to any fundamental improvement in the overall relationship," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Both China and the United States have said the first step toward a resumption of six-party talks must by inter-Korean dialogue.
Tension between the two rose to its highest since the 1950-53 Korean War, after the South accused the North of sinking one of its naval ships and later bombarding a South Korean island.
Pyongyang denies any involvement in the sinking and accuses Seoul of goading it into launching the later artillery attack.
An attempt at reconciliation last month came to nothing after low-level military talks between the two sides collapsed.