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‘N.K. says will halt uranium enrichment in exchange for aid'

North Korea has offered to halt its uranium enrichment program in exchange for possibly larger grain proportions in the previously-floated 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance from the U.S., sources said Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of State announced Wednesday the results of the third round of talks between Washington’s top envoy on North Korea Glyn Davies and North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan in Beijing, which went for two days on Thursday and Friday.

North Korea will shut down its uranium enrichment facilities and the U.S. will provide the North with 240,000 tons of nutritional assistance in return, with an increased proportion of grains, sources said.

The size of the nutritional assistance was discussed in the previous rounds of talks before the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December.

The U.S. demanded Pyongyang suspend operation of its nuclear facilities, and North Korea said it would be “technically difficult” to do so, Japan’s daily Yomiuri Shimbun reported Wednesday, quoting an unnamed source.

The report said the U.S. asserted that the status of the nuclear facilities should be checked under the monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency and should eventually come to a halt.

In response, the North said it is difficult to stop the program due to safety reasons and the high costs of resumption of the facilities, suggesting “another separate method,” the report said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Adm. Robert Willard, the U.S. top military officer in the Asia-Pacific, said the North should halt its nuclear program and ballistic missile tests to receive food aid from the U.S.

He also said that U.S. conditions for providing food aid could include North Korea allowing IAEA inspectors into its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon.

The U.S.-North talks were the first since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December, and deemed as a gauge of new leader Kim Jong-un’s policy directions.

Just before the death of the elder Kim, the U.S. and North Korea were on the verge of reaching an agreement on U.S. nutritional assistance for North Korean women, children and seniors in exchange for freezing the uranium enrichment program.

The U.S.-North talks could be part of indictors whether the stalled six-party nuclear talks could resume. The multilateral talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since 2008.

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)

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