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Archive for Saturday, October 21, 2006

N. Korea sends mixed messages

October 21, 2006

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— North Korea showed signs Friday it could be backing away from its nuclear showdown with the world, even as it staged a show of domestic support in Pyongyang, where tens of thousands gathered to laud the country's first atomic test.

Coming under united international pressure, Kim Jong Il reportedly apologized for the Oct. 9 nuclear detonation and said he wouldn't test any more bombs.

That doesn't mean Kim can afford to show any weakness to his home crowds who live in an officially enforced siege mentality and are long accustomed to blaming their desperate living conditions on outside forces - mainly the United States.

"No matter how the U.S. imperialists try to stifle and isolate our republic ... victory will be on the side of justice," Choe Thae Bok, secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, told a rally of more than 100,000 people, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

The North also held firm to its demand that the U.S. lift financial restrictions that have strangled Pyongyang's access to banks abroad as a condition to return to disarmament talks.

Washington has repeatedly rejected that request, and appears even more unlikely to alter its hard-line approach to the communist nation in the wake of the nuclear test - leaving the potential for the crisis to escalate further.

"If the U.S. makes a concession to some degree, we will also make a concession to some degree, whether it be bilateral talks or six-party talks," Kim was quoted as telling a Chinese envoy, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo daily reported.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday in Beijing. Rice is in Beijing for meetings with Chinese leaders on the North Korean nuclear crisis, following Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan's Thursday meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Friday in Beijing. Rice is in Beijing for meetings with Chinese leaders on the North Korean nuclear crisis, following Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan's Thursday meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

The North Korean leader also told the Chinese visitors "he is sorry about the nuclear test," the newspaper reported, citing a diplomatic source in China.

Kim also said "we have no plans for additional nuclear tests," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Friday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source in Beijing.

North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, also said Friday the country was willing to seek a diplomatic solution to the standoff.

"We believe that the nuclear test that we've already held gives us full deterrent, sufficient deterrent power, and we hope to return to six-party talks," he told ABC television in Pyongyang, referring to the nuclear negotiations.

Kim Kye Gwan added that the North has not indicated it is planning a second test and that only "others have said that."

Although officials in the region have suggested the North could be preparing for another test, Pyongyang also would be hesitant to use up its limited supply of radioactive material. North Korea is believed to have enough plutonium for about a half-dozen bombs, although estimates vary due to the limited intelligence on the country's nuclear program.

The North has long insisted its nuclear program is aimed at deterring a U.S. invasion, and that having the bomb enhances regional stability by putting it on equal terms with Washington.

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