REUTERS , SEOUL AND TOKYO
Friday, Jan 09, 2004,Page 5
North Korea plans to allow a US group to visit a nuclear complex to prove it is not bluffing about its progress toward making more atomic weapons, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper and source in Japan said yesterday.
The Jan. 6 to Jan.10 visit by a group that includes a nuclear scientist, congressional aides and a former diplomat comes as the US and its allies try to reopen talks with North Korea to end its nuclear programs.
The Tokyo-based People's Korea (Joson Sinbo) reported North Korea was expected to show the Yongbyon nuclear complex to the US, following through on an offer it had first made in October to US congressmen whose trip was later cancelled.
A diplomatic source close to North Korea said in Tokyo the Yongbyon visit was likely because Pyongyang wanted to "show how serious it is about nuclear development."
"It could be the last chance before North Korea decides whether to declare itself a nuclear state and negotiate with the United States," said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this week North Korea offered to freeze its nuclear arms program and stop nuclear power generation. The US, South Korea and Japan welcomed the step and said it suggested the North was preparing for talks.
The People's Korea report repeated what North Korea had said in October, when a bipartisan congressional delegation led by Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican, was to visit Pyongyang. The trip was scrapped due to opposition from the Bush administration.
"North Korea said it was prepared to let the delegation visit the nuclear facility in Yongbyon, as desired by the delegation, so that it might watch on the spot the completed reprocessing and the switchover made in the use of plutonium obtained," it said.
"The congressional trip was cancelled because of opposition from the White House, but this time the tour of the Yongbyon nuclear facility is likely to be realized for the nuclear experts," the newspaper added.
The US delegation is headed by John Wilson Lewis, a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He told reporters before departing Beijing for Pyongyang on Tuesday he did not know whether the group would visit Yongbyon.
Washington has kept the delegation at arm's length, saying efforts to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons must concentrate on six-way talks involving China, Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and the US. It is unclear when the talks will take place.
In Tokyo, Japan's Kyodo news agency said China was set to propose that the next round of talks accept a freeze of the North's nuclear arms program as a first step.
Quoting sources in Washington, Kyodo said the Chinese proposal would serve as a compromise by backing off from the harder stance of the US, which calls for the "complete, verifiable and irreversible" dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear program.