North Korea Agrees to Six-Party Talks on Nuclear Weapons

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Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

North Korea has accepted the Bush administration's offer of multilateral talks on Pyongyang's nuclear-weapons program, Russian and U.S. officials said yesterday, noting that a meeting is expected to take place "in the near future."

The North's bow, following months of insistence on direct dialogue with the United States, came after the administration agreed to add Russia to a group that initially was to include China, Japan and South Korea.

In fact, it was Russia that announced yesterday the willingness of Kim Jong-il's regime to participate in a six-party forum. The message was delivered to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov by the North's ambassador to Moscow, Pak Ui-chun.

"On behalf of his leadership, the ambassador said that [North Korea] favors holding six-sided talks with Russia's participation on settling the current difficult situation on the Korean peninsula and is undertaking active efforts for them to take place," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

There was no official confirmation from North Korea.

The State Department said that Moscow's announcement was "consistent" with what Washington was hearing from Beijing, which has been the most active mediator in trying to bring North Korea and the United States to the negotiating table.

"We are quite encouraged that the North Koreans are accepting the president's proposal for multilateral talks," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

Yesterday's announcement came shortly after the Bush administration's top arms-control official declared: "The days of [North Korean] blackmail are over."

John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, told a private think tank in Seoul that North Korea's leader lives like royalty while keeping "hundreds of thousands of his people locked in prison camps with millions more mired in abject poverty, scrounging the ground for food. For many in North Korea, life is a hellish nightmare."

President Bush discussed Pyongyang's decision with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday. Mr. Bush referred to that conversation during his news conference a few hours later, but chose not to make a big announcement.

The Bush administration has rejected bilateral negotiations with North Korea, arguing that Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program is a threat not only to the United States and should be dealt with in a manner that involves all major regional powers. …