The United States and South Korea have cautiously welcomed North Korea's offer to freeze its nuclear program.
"They, in effect, said they won't test, and they implied that they would give up all aspects of their nuclear program, not just [their] weapons," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said. He called the move "interesting and positive" and hoped Pyongyang's overture would lead to an early reconvening of six-party talks on resolving the nuclear impasse.
North Korea on Jan. 6 reiterated its willingness to freeze its "nuclear activities" in exchange for U.S. aid and removal from Washington's roster of terrorism-sponsoring nations. It specified in a statement carried on the official KCNA news agency that it was "set to refrain from test and production of nuclear weapons and stop even operating nuclear power industry for a peaceful purpose as first-phase measures of the package solution."
"We have held a lot of material for a long time that shows that proliferation is a problem," Powell said. "I hope that colleagues in Pyongyang are watching this and realizing that they are wasting a lot of money for programs that will not gain them anything."
In Seoul, South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Yoon Young-kwan, said officials in his government "positively evaluate the North Korean statement because it stated more specifically what measures it was willing to take, and reconfirmed once again its willing to resolve the issue through dialogue."
"We expect the announcement to help create atmosphere for a second round of six-nation talks," he added.
The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas have been scrambling for months to arrange a new round of six-nation negotiations. The first round last August in Beijing ended without progress.
The North Korean nuclear crisis flared in October 2002 when U.S. officials accused North Korea of running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 deal in which North Korea agreed to mothball its nuclear facilities. Washington and its allies cut off free oil shipments, which had been part of the 1994 accord.