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Mixed signals on nuke tests, talks from North Korea

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Mixed messages are emerging from North Korea over its nuclear test program.

Confusion began Friday with a report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency, which said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il regrets staging a nuclear test on October 9 and that he is not planning another.

"His country had no plan to conduct an additional nuclear test" the story indicated, opening up the possibility of a more conciliatory stand by Pyongyang on the nuclear issue.

Yonhap attributed the information to an informed diplomatic source in Beijing, China. The news agency said Kim passed along the promise during a meeting with a Chinese envoy.

China holds some political sway with North Korea, and provides the nation with most of its food and fuel.

Meanwhile, the KCNA, North Korea's state-run news agency, released a statement Friday calling the test "a historic success" and described the nation's pride Friday night following a large rally at a square named for Kim.

"Choe Thae Bok, alternative member of the Political Bureau and secretary of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, speaking on behalf of the WPK, hailed the successful nuclear test, reflecting the unanimous feelings of all the party members and other working people of the country, and warmly congratulated scientists, technicians and workers on having successfully ensured the nuclear test with ardent patriotism and loyalty," the statement said.

The WPK is the ruling party of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, the formal name for North Korea.

The statement continued: "The recent nuclear test was a quite just decision to defend the supreme interests of the state and the security of the nation from the U.S. imperialists' threat of aggression, avert a new war and defend peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan was told during a visit to North Korea this week that Pyongyang wants to return to the six-party talks, according to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The talks, among North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, stalled last year after restrictions from Washington were imposed on Pyongyang's external financing.

"We did not receive a proposal as such that the North Koreans will return to the talks," Rice told CNN. "But, of course, they can come back to the talks at any time without conditions."

North Korea's surprise underground test on October 9 prompted the United Nations to pass Resolution 1718, authorizing sanctions against the communist government.

Rice also has met with officials in Japan and South Korea, and will be in Moscow on Saturday to discuss implementation of the resolution.

Referring to the talks between the North Koreans and Tang, Rice said, "The Chinese obviously wanted to send a message to the North that they had engaged in very serious behavior that China did not support.

"They also wanted very much to try and get a return to the diplomatic path and the six-party talks," Rice said.

She said Tang reported that he valued the chance to air China's positions with North Korean leaders.

"We hope all relevant parties can maintain cool-headedness, adopt a prudent and responsible attitude and adhere to peaceful dialogue as the main approach," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said in a joint Beijing news conference with Rice.

"We are willing to strengthen consultations and cooperation with all parties to break the stalemate and restart the six-party talks as soon as possible," he added.

Six-party talks on or off?

Rice said she and Li spoke Friday about leaving open "a path to negotiation through the six-party talks," but only if Pyongyang returns to the talks "without condition."

North Korea previously has declined returning to multilateral negotiations on its nuclear weapons program as long as financial sanctions are imposed.

However, Kim reportedly told a Chinese envoy that "if the United States made some concessions, then we would make some concessions as well, whether they be in the form of bilateral talks or in the form of the six-party talks," according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

Asked to respond to the newspaper report, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said they were not aware of any such comments by Kim, but Li was overheard telling Rice that Tang's trip "was not in vain."

During her trip, Rice has expressed the importance of a full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718.

The measure prohibits trade with North Korea of any materials or weapons that could be used by its ballistic missile and weapons programs. The sanctions also call for inspections of all cargo leaving and arriving in the country.

The implementation of the resolution is important because it would "make certain there is not a transit and trade in dangerous illegal materials, concerning the nuclear program of the DPRK," Rice said.

The DPRK's nuclear test is "a serious provocation" and a "threat to international peace and security," she added.

However, Adm. Timothy Keating, commander of Northern Command/NORAD, told CNN on Friday that he doesn't worry about the reclusive country or its leader.

"North Korea is not even a third-world nation. They're very primitive. Their engineering, their manufacturing techniques are not that great. They're 1950s standards," he said.

"It is extremely unlikely that they'll be able to surprise us because of the very sophisticated intelligence-gathering mechanism that is in place," Keating said. "We're watching [Kim] carefully, and we hope that he comes to his senses."

South Korean military soldiers take part in military exercises on Friday.


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