06/21/2005, 00.00
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Kim Jong-il says he will get rid of missiles in exchange for ties with Washington

Seoul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Kim Jong-il , the North Korean leader, last week told a South Korean envoy he would get rid of his country's nuclear arms once diplomatic ties with the US are "normalised". Kim Jong-il reportedly said this in a meeting last Friday with Unification Minister Chung Dong-young in Pyongyang.

Briefing the South Korean cabinet about the meeting yesterday, Mr Chung was quoted by a senior official as saying: "If North Korea normalises diplomatic ties with the United States and Washington becomes an ally with Pyongyang, then North Korea would give up all of its missiles." In February, North Korea declared it possessed nuclear weapons; according to Mr Kim's latest comments, in order to "give up everything", the state wants security guarantees.

The south Korean official said Mr Kim had been referring to long-, medium- and short-range missiles, some of which could reach Japan and South Korea. Mr Kim was also quoted as saying that  North Korea was ready to end its year-long boycott of six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programme if the US showed it respect.

The US is not likely to react positively to the North Korean leader's statement. Unless the nuclear standoff is resolved, diplomatic ties between the two states are virtually unattainable. Another bone of contention is the human rights record of North Korea. Proliferation experts believe North Korea could own as many as eight nuclear weapons, however, it is not known it the country has been able to develop a nuclear weapon small enough to fit into a missile warhead. Military experts say North Korea probably does have chemical and biological warheads as well as conventional ones.

In 1998, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The Taepodong 1 missile is thought to have a range of 2,500km. North Korea has tested and deployed a shorter-range missile, the Rodong 1, and according to experts, may be working on a longer-range one that could reach the western United States.

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