US says North Korea must `get out of nuclear business'

Monday, February 5th 2007, 6:25 am
By: News On 6

TOKYO (AP) _ North Korea must get out of the nuclear business if it wants energy or economic aid, the chief U.S. negotiator said Monday, adding he believed the North was prepared to negotiate at the coming arms talks in Beijing.

However, he refused to speak on news reports that Pyongyang is prepared to freeze a key reactor and accept inspectors in exchange for 500,000 tons of heavy oil and other conditions.

``The DPRK (North Korea) must get out of the nuclear business entirely,'' Christopher Hill told reporters in Tokyo.

``Of course, it is envisioned there'll be some economic assistance and energy assistance,'' he said. ``But the purpose of the exercise is to stop the North Koreans from operating this terrible nuclear reactor.''

Hill added he believed Pyongyang ``would come prepared to negotiate'' after more than a year of stalled talks, but refused to elaborate.

Hill was to meet with Japanese officials before leaving for Beijing on Wednesday. The next round of talks is to start in the Chinese capital on Thursday among delegates of the two Koreas, Japan, the U.S., China and Russia.

Later Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tokyo would not consider giving North Korea energy aid unless the communist also came clean on its past abduction of Japanese nationals.

Pyongyang claims it has returned all surviving victims who were kidnapped to train its spies in the Japanese language and culture. But Tokyo believes more Japanese are held.

``Japan will not be offering anything unless North Korea acts sincerely on the abduction problem,'' Abe told reporters late Monday.

Abe and Hill were responding to press reports that Pyongyang has said it could freeze the reactor at its nuclear complex in Yongbyon and accept international Atomic Energy Agency inspections in exchange for light-water reactors and oil until the reactors are completed.

Japanese media reported Sunday that in exchange for closing the Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allowing limited inspections, North Korea plans to demand more oil than the 500,000 tons it was promised under a 1994 deal.

The daily Asahi Shimbun and public broadcaster NHK cited Joel Wit, a former U.S. State Department official who met chief North Korean arms negotiator Kim Kye Gwan and other senior officials in Pyongyang.

``They want energy assistance, and the topic that came up the most was heavy oil,'' Wit said in an interview aired by NHK on Monday. ``They really desperately need that.''

North Korea was promised two light-water reactors under the 1994 deal to freeze its nuclear program, along with an annual supply of 500,000 tons of heavy fuel oil until the reactors were built

The deal was scrapped in 2002 when the nuclear crisis re-emerged and North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors.