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Rice presses N. Korea on nuclear program

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged North Korea to accept terms to verify the dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, as the two countries ended a four-year hiatus in cabinet-level talks on Wednesday.
Image: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, meets with Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo on the sidelines of the ASEAN Ministerial Meetings. Rice gauged North Korea's latest nuclear disarmament efforts when she met its top diplomat Wednesday in Singapore.Wong Maye-e / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged North Korea to accept terms to verify the dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, as the two countries ended a four-year hiatus in cabinet-level talks on Wednesday.

Rice told North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun that his nation must move quickly to prove it has told the truth about its past atomic activities if it wants to improve ties with the United States, its immediate neighbors and end its international isolation.

"We didn't get into specific timetables, but the spirit was good because people believe we have made progress," she told reporters after the meeting on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in Singapore.

"There is also a sense of urgency about moving forward and a sense that we can't afford to have another hiatus," Rice said of her talks with Pak and the foreign ministers of the other four nations — China, Japan, Russia and South Korea — involved in the effort.

In a brief one-on-one exchange at the end of the 80-minute meeting, she reminded Pak of the importance the United States places on the process and also on North Korea resolving the issue of Japanese citizens it abducted in the 1980s, a senior U.S. official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private diplomatic exchange.

'No surprises'
Rice said there had been "no surprises" at the gathering, which had been characterized as informal and informational, and agreed with her counterparts that all six parties to the talks had reaffirmed their commitment to the ultimate goal of denuclearizing North Korea.

"I think this is quite significant," said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. "It shows the six parties have the political will to move forward with the ... process."

Yang said the group had made "major headway" in obtaining verifiable accounting of North Korea's nuclear program and others said they believed the meeting would boost the effort ahead a formal ministerial meeting to be held at an as-yet-unscheduled date in Beijing.

"Although it was not an official meeting, I think it was a good opportunity to show that the six-party process is maturing," said South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan. "I think (it) will give a political impetus for further six-party talks."

Diplomats had expected Pak to present at least an initial response to the four-page proposed "verification protocol" that was given to North Korea this month after it delivered a declaration containing details of its nuclear program in June.

'Hostile policies'
But just hours before the talks began, North Korea insisted it had met its commitments and said Washington must completely abandon its "hostile policies" toward the regime if the denuclearization process is to succeed.

"What is important in the next stage is that these measures should lead to a complete abandonment of hostile (U.S.) policies toward our republic," North Korean spokesman Ri Tong Il told reporters. Pyongyang maintains that Washington is intent on North Korea's destruction.

However, he also said that Pyongyang hoped the meeting would build momentum toward ending the declaration and verification stage and move toward a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, which closed with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

Rice said there had been "a lot of discussion" about the proposal, which calls for intrusive inspections, interviews with scientists and a role for the U.N. nuclear watchdog, but would not say if the North had moved beyond preliminary objections to some of elements.

However, she insisted that the meeting "was actually very good."

"It wasn't a standoff with people just stating their positions ... it was interactive," she said.

Wednesday's meeting marked the first time since 2004 that the top diplomats from the United States and North Korea have met face-to-face.