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September 6, 2009

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Envoys try to revive N. Korea arms talks

TOP nuclear envoys from South Korea and the United States held talks yesterday on a strategy to bring North Korea back to disarmament negotiations, a day after the North claimed to have succeeded in experimental uranium enrichment.

US special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, and South Korean envoy Wi Sung-lac made no comments after their Seoul meeting. Bosworth later met with South Korea's unification minister in charge of relations with North Korea.

Bosworth said in Beijing on Friday that any nuclear development in North Korea was a matter of concern. "We confirm the necessity to maintain a coordinated position and the need for a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," he said.

North Korea's claim that it is in the final stages of enriching uranium raises the possibility that it might add to its stockpile of bombs made from plutonium. Uranium offers an easier way to make nuclear weapons.

North Korea also said it was continuing to weaponize plutonium.

Washington shows no signs of easing pressure on North Korea through sanctions, although the North has also recently made a series of conciliatory gestures, including the release of two detained American journalists and a reported invitation to top US envoys, including Bosworth, to visit Pyongyang.

"We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions," the North said in a letter to the United Nations Security Council carried Friday by its official Korean Central News Agency. If some members of the council put "sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue," it said.

The North warned it would be left with no choice but to take "yet another strong self-defensive countermeasure" if the standoff continued. It did not elaborate.

US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the North's announcement on Friday was troubling.

"We are very concerned by these claims that they are moving closer to the weaponization of nuclear materials," Kelly said.


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