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North Korea Agrees to Resume Nuclear Talks

JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

North Korea said today it will rejoin six-nation nuclear arms talks later this month. The declaration was reported by North Korea's official news agency and confirmed by an American official traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who's just arrived in China. The meeting is scheduled for the week of July 25th, and if it goes ahead, it will be the first since last summer. NPR's Rob Gifford joins me from Beijing.

Hi, Rob.

ROB GIFFORD reporting:

Hi, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: This announcement seems something of a surprise. How'd it come about?

GIFFORD: There were talks today that were previously unannounced between the vice minister of foreign affairs of North Korea and the US point man on North Korea who is Christopher Hill. He's the former US ambassador to South Korea. KCNA, the North Korean news agency, has just come out with a statement, as you say, confirmed by the US side that these talks are to go ahead. There has been a lot of diplomacy back and forth over the last few weeks, so in that sense, I guess it's not such a surprise, but these talks today were unannounced. We didn't know they were going on beforehand, although they do coincide with the arrival today of Condoleezza Rice in Beijing.

LUDDEN: Well, North Korean officials had earlier suggested they might re-enter these talks if the United States showed respect toward North Korea. So do we have any reason to believe that the US has done that?

GIFFORD: Well, yes, the important thing is, I suppose, that North Korea believes that the US side has done that. The sticking point here was rather an interesting one. It was Condoleezza Rice actually saying several months ago that North Korea was an outpost of tyranny, and the North Koreans got very upset about this and they put this down as one of their conditions for rejoining the talks, that Secretary of State Rice actually withdraw that statement. In the North Korean statement today, they said that the US side had said that it sees North Korea as a sovereign state and had reaffirmed the fact that the US would not invade North Korea, and the statement said that they are taking from that that the secretary of State had, indeed, withdrawn her statement that North Korea's an outpost of tyranny. A bit of a stretch actually if you think about it logically, but that's what the statement said.

LUDDEN: So some delicate, delicate diplomacy here. I mean, if these things start getting clarified too much, is there a chance it could all fall apart before it starts?

GIFFORD: Well, that is, of course, the danger. It is all very delicate. The problem is that not only, of course, are the US and the North Korean sides very far apart, even though they've agreed to talks, but within the other six parties, there are some differences as well. The South Koreans specifically are very much into engaging North Korea in a way that the US government does not particularly like from one of its major allies in northeast Asia. The Chinese have big differences with the United States. The Chinese feel very, very strongly they don't want to do anything that could bring about any kind of regime change or collapse of North Korea, so there are definitely many, many problems there to overcome.

LUDDEN: NPR's Rob Gifford in Beijing, thanks so much.

GIFFORD: Thanks, Jennifer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Gifford
Rob Gifford is the NPR foreign correspondent based in Shanghai.
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