North Korea said to put off talks until after U.S. election


SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea is waiting out the U.S. presidential election in order to bargain with the winner over its nuclear weapons program, according to a British diplomat who left Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, yesterday.

"The North Koreans were saying they were still committed to the six-party talks process, but weren't prepared to commit to a date," Bill Rammell, a Foreign Office minister, told reporters at the Beijing airport after his four-day visit to Pyongyang.

At the last round of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, in Beijing in June, the countries agreed to hold the next round by Sept. 30.

One factor "is the timing of the American presidential election," Rammell said, according to Reuters. "I made clear to them my view that whoever wins the presidential election - whether it's President Bush or Senator Kerry - North Korea will be faced with broadly the same strategic policy from the United States, and this isn't just about the United States."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell bolstered that view, advising North Korea: "I wouldn't waste the time waiting for something different to happen."

He added, "It's my belief that they will see the same group of individuals working on this problem after the first week of November."

Regional analysts also were debating the cause of an explosion last week that sent a mushroom cloud high over North Korea.

No abnormal radiation levels have been detected in the region. On Monday, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said the explosion was not a nuclear test but a blast intended to demolish a mountain for a hydroelectric plant.

This week, a group of foreign diplomats is expected to visit the explosion site. Until then, South Koreans are voicing skepticism.

"Why energy-stricken North Korea would conduct a project at night cannot be understood," an editorial in Chosun Ilbo said yesterday. "Why it took place when the whole nation were supposed to have a day of rest remains a question."

No significant seismic tremors were registered from the region, indicating it could have been a surface explosion that sent huge amounts of dirt into the air.

South Korea planned to take advantage of sunny skies over the peninsula to take satellite photos of the scene yesterday and today, Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-ung said.

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