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'NKorea nuclear talks in danger'

Nuclear negotiations with North Korea are in danger of going 'back to square one', South Korea's top diplomat said.

world Updated: Sep 26, 2008 11:11 IST

Nuclear negotiations with North Korea are in danger of going "back to square one," South Korea's top diplomat said Friday as the communist nation continued to move toward restarting its atomic program.

North Korea had agreed last year to disable its nuclear facility at Yongbyon north of the capital, Pyongyang, in exchange for aid and other concessions. But it abandoned the pact last month and confirmed it has begun reassembling the reprocessing plant. Earlier this week, the regime orderedUN nuclear monitors to leave, saying it would reinsert nuclear material into a plutonium-producing facility in a week's time.

"We are faced with a difficult situation where this (negotiation) is not moving forward, and may go back to square one," South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told an alumni gathering on Friday.

Yu said the North may be reversing the disarmament steps until the US elects a new president in early November. But he warned Pyongyang not to expect a better nuclear deal with presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

"Whether it's Obama or McCain, there won't be any big change in the basic (US) position," Yu said.

Yu urged the communist regime to honor the current disarmament-for-aid accord reached at six-nation talks involving the United States, China, Japan, the two Koreas and Russia. North Korea blames Washington for its decision to restore the nuclear facilities, saying the US has not kept its promise to remove it from the US list of states that sponsor terrorism _ a key reward offered to Pyongyang in exchange for giving up its nuclear ambitions.

The United States says the North should first accept an international plan to verify its accounting of nuclear programs if it wants to be taken off the terror list. Pyongyang has rejected the demand as a unilateral disarmament attempt.

In New York, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called verification a "standard issue."

"This is nothing that is more onerous than has been agreed to by other countries in the international system," McCormack told reporters Thursday night.

"It may be a bit more difficult for the North Koreans to see that, given the nature of their society and the nature of their regime, but they also have to understand that it's important that this be approved to move the process forward," he said. He said the United States is "trying to use all points of leverage here" and encouraging other nations to do the same to persuade the North to not make the "unfortunate step" of restarting its nuclear facilities.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been speaking in recent days with other members of the six-party process, including her counterparts in Russia, China and South Korea, McCormack said.