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(Yonhap Interview) U.S. official calls for road map for denuclearization of N. Korea

SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) -- The United States won't agree to reopen the long-stalled multilateral denuclearization talks with North Korea unless the communist country shows a clear willingness to abandon its nuclear ambitions, a senior U.S. official said.

North Korea's menacing nuclear program was a major topic when Daniel Russel, the assistant U.S. secretary of state for East Asian Pacific affairs, met with South Korean officials in Seoul earlier this week.

Seoul was the first leg of Russel's trip to Northeast Asia which includes stops in Beijing and Tokyo. It will be Russel's first trip to the region since taking office in July.

"The purpose of the six-party talks is to draw up a road map to get to the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korea Peninsula on a clear time table, on a shortest, quickest table as possible," Russel said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Saturday. "So the question that we all need to keep asking ourselves is that does North Korea accept that."

   The six-party talks, which put together the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have been suspended since 2008.

North Korea, apparently prodded by China, is more willing than before to reopen the six-party forum, but the U.S., South Korea and Japan, have shown reservations about the North's intentions in the absence of its clear moves to disarm.

In Seoul, Russel met with Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kyou-hyun.

Russel said he is looking for "convincing indications" from North Korea that the six-party forum, if re-convened, would lead to a rapid-paced road map for the North's denuclearization.

"Those are the signs that North Korea needs to send," he said.

Recent satellite imagery showed that the North has doubled the size of its uranium enrichment facility in Yongbyon, a reverse indication that it will further increase its nuclear weapons capacity.

"It's understandable after so many cycles of broken promises by North Korea that the international community would have high standards of evidence with a call on North Korea to make convincing indications of its seriousness and purpose," Russel said.

If North Korea comes to the table only to reject its denuclearization obligations and only to demand a "nuclear status" and the lifting of international sanctions against it, "that's merely grandstanding and it's destructing," he said.

Russel's remarks underline persistent U.S. concerns about the North's intentions.

In defiance of an aid-for-denuclearization deal reached in 2005, the North detonated a nuclear device the next year. It conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 29 this year, exactly one year after it and the U.S. adopted another food aid-for-denuclarization agreement. That agreement eventually unraveled.

The North's unpredictable moves have subsequently drawn heavy punitive sanctions from the United Nations and separately from the U.S.

In March, North Korea, under its new leader, Kim Jong-un, has publicly declared that it will simultaneously pursue both economic growth and nuclear energy development.

Russel stressed that all member countries of the six-party talks except North Korea are in "very very close coordination" and agree that they will not tolerate North Korea being a nuclear power.

"What is noteworthy is the extent of, the high quality of consultations among all five of us," he said, adding that "None of the five will accept North Korea's position that it is, it can be, or it is entitled to becoming a nuclear power."

   Still, the U.S. remains open to dialogue with North Korea, he stressed.

Touching on Japan's move to acquire so-called collective self-defense rights, Russel said, "we are in close on-going consultations with Japan year-on-year about their programs and look to Japan to continue to play positive, responsible role as a security partner."

   pbr@yna.co.kr

(END)

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