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SKorea envoy says NKorea would abandon nuclear program to reverse economic decline

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korea's nuclear envoy said Tuesday that North Korea could be persuaded to disarm with strong incentives to help reverse its economic crisis, while China called for flexibility at revived arms talks it is hosting.

In Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said North Korea would have to submit to inspections by the U.N. atomic watchdog to eventually prove it had completed its denuclearization.

``Without the proof, we cannot easily trust that they abandoned the plan,'' he said.

North Korea confirmed its participation at the six-nation nuclear talks, which include the United States, both Koreas, Russia, Japan and China, and are set to convene Monday in Beijing.

``The talks will be held next week, but it is the moment to watch'' how talks develop, Yonhap news agency quoted Kim Myong Gil, a minister for North Korea's mission to the United Nations in New York, as saying. He did not elaborate.

The nuclear talks have been on hold since November 2005, with the North refusing to attend in protest at U.S. financial restrictions imposed over Pyongyang's alleged complicity in money-laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. dollars.

Since then, the North has tested a new long-range missile and its first nuclear weapon _ adding impetus to international efforts seeking its denuclearization. So far, the talks have failed to yield any progress.

In Beijing on Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing hopes participants should ``show flexibility and a pragmatic attitude and take concrete steps to achieve positive results.''

South Korea's nuclear negotiator Chun Yung-woo said in Seoul at a closed academic forum Tuesday that the North realizes it needs outside assistance to end its deep economic decline, which has led to shortages and famine for its people.

``I believe they may be interested in a trade-off between nuclear capabilities and economic rehabilitation,'' he said, according to a pool report. ``How far and how fast North Korea can be made to move forward depends primarily on the extent to which the five other parties are willing to give in return for North Korea's actions.''

Last month, Washington offered North Korea specific details about the kind of economic and energy assistance it would receive in exchange for shutting down its nuclear facilities, although no details have been made public. It is not clear how the North has responded.

Chun also cautioned against ``overloading the agenda'' of the nuclear talks, mentioning issues such as the U.S. financial restrictions, which Washington has agreed to discuss in a separate forum alongside the arms talks. The North has demanded the measures be lifted.

The comment by the South Korean diplomat also appeared aimed at Japan, which has repeatedly tried to raise the issue of its abducted nationals at the nuclear talks.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Tuesday the abduction issue remains Japan's foremost concern. The North says it has resolved the issue, but many Japanese remain unsatisfied about claims of the status of the kidnap victims.
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