July 13, 2005

Rice optimistic North Korea talks can bear fruit

By Jon Herskovitz and Carol Giacomo

SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea are
optimistic North Korea, enticed by energy aid, might agree to
scrap its nuclear plans and so defuse one of the world's most
dangerous crises, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on

Her comments, the most upbeat by a U.S. official on North
Korea in months, came two weeks before stalled six-way nuclear
talks resume and after South Korea offered to supply
electricity to the North if it dismantled its nuclear programs.

"We are very optimistic that our joint efforts to improve
the security situation on the Korean peninsula could indeed
bear fruit, although, of course, there is still much work to be
done," she said after meeting South Korean President Roh
Moo-hyun and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

"I actually think it's quite interesting that the North has
responded by saying that, yes, it is not only coming back to
the talks but it hopes to make progress," Rice said.

North Korea declared in February it had nuclear weapons.

After holding out for a year, it agreed last weekend to
return to the talks on ending its nuclear plans. Other
countries taking part include China, which is hosting the
meetings, the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, meeting a Chinese envoy on
Wednesday, told him that "realizing a denuclearised Korean
peninsula is our conscientious goal," the Xinhua news agency

Pyongyang announced its decision on the talks as Rice began
a tour of Asia, which was to take her to China, Thailand and
Japan before winding up in Seoul.

Analysts said it was too early to say whether her tour
marked a turning point in the crisis, but they noted that
Seoul's electricity offer played a crucial role in coaxing the
North back to the table and convincing Washington there could
be movement.

Rice said the proposal was creative and built on an
existing U.S.-backed proposal to the North made at the third
round in June 2004 of fuel aid from others and U.S. security
guarantees to North Korea if it gave up its nuclear weapons

South Korea said it had offered to supply the North with
2,000 megawatts of electricity, almost the equivalent of its
present output.

Rice said it was easy to understand North Korea's energy
needs by looking at satellite photographs of the Korean
peninsula at night that show a brightly lit southern half and
near pitch-darkness in the north.

The Roh administration is ready to seek parliamentary
approval for its energy plan, if it is needed, Yonhap news
quoted a senior official as saying.


Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a
prominent think-tank on Asian affairs, called Seoul's move "a
stroke of genius" because the offer could please Pyongyang and
Washington while helping the diplomatic process.

As part of that deal, Seoul would ask for the scrapping of
a stalled project to supply North Korea with two
proliferation-resistant light-water reactors that were promised
in a 1994 deal brokered by the Clinton administration.

Cossa was unsure whether electricity and previous pledges
of security guarantees would be enough to convince the North to
abandon nuclear weapons, which Pyongyang has said it needs to
counter Washington's hostility toward it.

"The nuclear weapons are not the objective for Pyongyang's
leaders. It is survival. The parties need to convince them that
they can survive without nuclear weapons and that having them
decreases their chance of survival," Cossa said.

A senior South Korean National Security Council official
said Seoul as yet had no good estimate on how much it would
cost to set up the power supply for the North. South Korea
could use $2.4 billion it had allocated for the light-water
reactor project to fund the electric power plan, he told

"We are looking at this as part of the cost of
unification," said the official, who asked not to be named.
"Unless a war breaks out on the Korean peninsula, we will not
cut off the power."

South Korean officials said the North had been pressing for
years for help in generating electricity and they thought the
sweetener would help Pyongyang agree to a nuclear deal.

(With additional reporting by Park Sung-woo and Jack Kim)