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    N. Korea to stop nuclear program if U.S. stops threats

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    North Korea in an official statement pledged on Tuesday to discontinue its nuclear ambitions only if the United States stopped its threatening and "unfriendly" policies towards the communist nation.

    MOSCOW, January 13 (RIA Novosti) - North Korea in an official statement pledged on Tuesday to discontinue its nuclear ambitions only if the United States stopped its threatening and "unfriendly" policies towards the communist nation.

    "We will not need nuclear weapons as soon as the U.S. nuclear threat disappears and the American nuclear umbrella over South Korea has been removed," the statement read.

    According to an unnamed North Korean diplomat, the statement reflects the country's stance on its nuclear disarmament and was made ahead of the upcoming presidential inauguration of Barack Obama on January 20.

    North Korea requested an invitation to Obama's inauguration; however, Washington denied North Korean diplomats permission to participate.

    During U.S. President George Bush's final press conference held in Washington on Monday, Bush made it clear that Iran and North Korea are still considered by Washington as dangerous.

    "North Korea's still a problem. So they're still dangerous and Iran is still dangerous," Bush said. "In order to advance our relations with North Korea, the North Korean government must honor the commitments it made to allow for strong verification measures to be in place to ensure that they do not develop a highly enriched uranium program," he added.

    In 2008, the U.S. removed North Korea from the blacklist of countries supporting international terrorism after Pyongyang gave assurances on verification measures.

    South Korea announced on Tuesday it would send an official delegation, headed by the country's nuclear envoy, Hwang Joon-kook, to North Korea to discuss the sale of its unspent nuclear fuel rods, Yonhap reported. It is hoped the visit may provide a stimulus to talks that stalled amid recent diplomatic wrangling.

    "Our fact-finding team will focus on the technical and economic aspects of a decision on the handling of North Korea's unused fuel rods," South Korea's ministry said in a statement.

    Last year the communist country announced it had 14,000 unspent fuel rods, which Seoul has estimated amount to some 100 tons of uranium. South Korea has 20 nuclear reactors providing the country with 40% of its energy needs and plans to increase its nuclear facilities in the future.

    Relations between Seoul and the communist north have deteriorated since South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008, and amid claims that North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il has been incapacitated following a stroke in August.

    Relations between the two sides were dealt a further blow last month, when the North tightened controls on the heavily fortified border, and expelled some of the South Koreans working at the Kaesong industrial park, close to the border.

    Each of the five countries, involved in the talks, which include the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, Russia and China, agreed in 2007 to give the North 200,000 metric tons of fuel oil as an incentive for North Korea's nuclear decommissioning and disclosure of all information on past nuclear activities. The move followed a nuclear test blast conducted by the communist state in October 2006.

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