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U.S. ready for full ties if N.Korea denuclearizes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is ready to open full diplomatic ties with North Korea if it completely gives up its nuclear weapons and programs, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said on Wednesday.

U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill speaks at a news conference in Incheon airport in this January 10, 2008 file photo. The United States is ready to open full diplomatic ties with North Korea if it completely gives up its nuclear weapons and programs, Hill said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Han Jae-Ho

“We believe that we have some elements that we can put on the table which will be worth the DPRK’s while in giving up its nuclear ambitions,” he told lawmakers, referring to the country by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“One of the elements is of course to put on the table our preparedness not only to improve bilateral relations, because we have been doing that, but in the context of full denuclearization we would be prepared to establish full diplomatic relations,” he added.

The comment appeared to be the most explicit to date by a U.S. official raising the possibility of normal relations with the secretive, communist state if it carries through with an agreement to abandon all its nuclear weapons and programs.

Under an agreement between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, North Korea has committed to abandon all nuclear weapons and nuclear programs in exchange for diplomatic and economic incentives.

As part of a later agreement, it was required to provide a complete declaration of its nuclear programs by Dec. 31 but failed to do so. It also agreed to disable its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, a process Hill said was making progress although North Korea has slowed down some work on this.

“These advances, notwithstanding, we are again at a critical, challenging point in the six-party process,” he said in written testimony submitted to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Working closely with our six-party partners we intend to ensure that Pyongyang lives up to its word by submitting to the Chinese chair as soon as possible a declaration that is in fact complete and correct,” Hill added in the written testimony.

If North Korea produces the declaration and fully disables Yongbyon, Hill laid out a number of other incentives that the United States could offer quickly, including opening a process to seek a formal end to the 1950-1953 Korean war.

“A second issue that we will have on the table is our commitment, if the DPRK so wishes, to work with the DPRK ... and the South Koreans, and the Chinese, on creating a peace mechanism, a peace process, a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” Hill said.

“We believe that the discussion of a Korean Peninsula peace regime could begin among the directly related parties once the DPRK has disabled its existing nuclear facilities,” he said.

“That is, we would want to do this right at the start of this next phase, once we get through this declaration, with the understanding that we cannot finally reach a peace regime unless we have a denuclearized North Korea,” he added.