North Korea said Tuesday it was willing to discuss its new nuclear programme and the suspension of atomic tests as diplomatic efforts intensified to resume six-party disarmament talks.
The North told visiting Russian envoy Alexei Borodavkin that it was willing to return to the six-party nuclear talks "without any precondition", Pyongyang's state media quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
In talks with the Russian deputy foreign minister, the North also said it would not oppose discussions at the six-party forum on its disputed uranium enrichment programme, Korean Central News Agency quoted the spokesman as saying.
Russia called for "constructive" measures by Pyongyang, such as a moratorium on nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, access for international experts to uranium enrichment facilities, and six-party discussion of the uranium programme, KCNA said.
The North responded that the issues could be "discussed and settled in the course of implementing" a nuclear deal from 2005 if the talks are resumed, it said.
The joint statement from six-party talks in September 2005 called for the communist North's denuclearisation in return for economic aid, diplomatic recognition and the establishment of a permanent peace regime.
Pyongyang sparked security fears in November when it disclosed an apparently functional uranium enrichment plant to visiting US experts.
The North said it was a peaceful energy project but experts said the facility could hand Pyongyang a second route to making atomic bombs on top of its existing plutonium stockpile.
Professor Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said Pyongyang was acknowledging international concern over the uranium enrichment programme even while it insists on its peaceful intention.
"The statement adds momentum to diplomatic efforts to resume the six-party talks," Yang told AFP.
The North had previously refused to accept the 27, saying it wanted all 31 people on the boat -- or none at all. The other four are said to want to stay in the South.
Cross-border tension flared after Pyongyang's alleged sinking of a Seoul warship in March 2010, which killed 46 sailors, and escalated when the North shelled a border island in November, leaving four South Koreans dead.
President Lee Myung-Bak said on Tuesday South Korea must be ready for a surprise North Korean attack, as well as deadly natural and nuclear disasters.
His comments came as South Korea conducted a nationwide afternoon drill to ensure the public was fully prepared for bombings by North Korean jet fighters and artillery deployed along the tense border.
Cho Hyun-Dong, the South's deputy nuclear envoy, left for Russia Tuesday to meet Borodavkin.
But China, the North's strong ally, said the uranium program should be handled at the six-party talks.
"The latest remark is the North's gesture aimed to urge Russia to play a bigger role to create a breakthrough in the long-stalled negotiation," he said.
Six-party talks grouping the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, the United States and China have been deadlocked since Pyongyang walked out in April 2009 in protest at UN condemnation of an apparent missile test.
The hardline state staged its second nuclear test the following month, sparking tougher UN sanctions.
Source: AFP Asian Edition