BEIJING Talks aim to get N. Korea to stop nuclear program
South Korea has offered fuel oil aid to entice the North to cooperate.
BEIJING (AP) -- Boosted by a public face of optimism, a delicate new round of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program convened today with the United States saying it had "no intention" of invading and the reclusive nation welcoming an opportunity for progress.
South Korea also said it had offered the North unspecified compensation for giving up the program.
The outwardly amiable tone came shortly after the North issued an 11th-hour demand for compensation before beginning any freeze of its nuclear program -- a statement aimed at Washington, which demands an immediate shutdown of the activities.
Diplomats from the two Koreas, Japan, China, the United States and Russia clasped hands for a photograph as they entered China's state guesthouse for the meetings.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi greeted the representatives, and statements from each nation followed.
"The United States seeks complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all North Korea's nuclear programs, both plutonium and uranium," Assistant U.S. Secretary of State James Kelly said in his opening remarks.
Pyongyang also wants a nonaggression treaty with Washington, but Kelly said it had nothing to worry about.
"The United States has no intention of invading or attacking the DPRK," he said, using the initials for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
What's behind this
The 16-month-old stalemate is centered around U.S. allegations that Pyongyang has a uranium-based weapons program as well as its known plutonium-based one. North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's government has denied having a uranium-based program.
Kim Kye Gwan, the North's Vice Foreign Minister, struck a conciliatory note in his opening remarks. "We are here to seek common ground," he said.
"That the six-nation talks have reopened shows the willingness that the nuclear issue can be resolved peacefully," Kim said.
"We hope that disagreement between each party can be narrowed as much as possible and the stalemate between North Korea and the United States can be resolved through dialogue."
The first session ended early this afternoon. Later, Kelly and Kim were scheduled to meet in direct talks on the sideline of the six-nation meeting, which resumes Thursday morning.
After the session, South Korea said it had proposed "countermeasures" if the North froze its nuclear program and showed signs of dismantling it. Seoul's head delegate, Lee Soo-hyuck, said he presented the proposal during the opening session.
"If it is such a freeze, we can push for countermeasures," Lee told reporters, using a term that is believed to refer to compensation for the North's giving up its nuclear ambitions. He didn't elaborate, and it was unclear if his proposal had been directly endorsed by the United States.
Last week, South Korean officials said the South was prepared to resume energy aid to its communist neighbor after the dispute is resolved and the North dismantles its nuclear programs.
The New York Times reported on its Web site late Tuesday that the North will be offered fuel oil aid in return for a pledge to freeze and eventually end its program.
It said the offer was expected to be made by South Korea, not the United States, at the talks. It was unclear whether the report referred to the offer detailed by Lee.
A response by the U.S. State Department distributed by the American Embassy in Beijing said the United States "will not provide North Korea with rewards for complying with its international obligations."
"We are seeking the complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear weapons program," the response said.
Lee said he had told North Korea that its freeze must cover all nuclear programs and be followed "in a short period of time" by steps toward a complete and verifiable dismantling of nuclear capabilities.
"A nuclear freeze should be an inseparable part of nuclear dismantlement. A nuclear freeze itself is not the goal. Dismantlement must be the goal," Lee said at a briefing. He called on the North to address the uranium allegations.