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US Congressmen Cautiously Optimistic About Nuclear Talks After North Korea Visit

U.S. Congressmen Jim Leach and Tom Lantos say they are cautiously optimistic ahead of North Korea nuclear disarmament talks that are set to resume the week of September 12.

Congressmen Jim Leach said he came away from Pyongyang with the impression that the talks will resume the week of September 12, the time of the recently revised schedule.

"Precision of date was not asserted, but there was strong confidence that this would go forth on a timely basis, as has been indicated," said Jim Leach.

Talks recessed in early August and were set to resume at the end of the month, but North Korea postponed its return in protest of annual joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

The lawmakers cautioned that the North Koreans indicated they have not given up their demands for a civilian nuclear program - the issue that held up the last round of negotiations. They also said the North Koreans seem intent on having a light water nuclear reactor - a type that can be used for both peaceful purposes and to make nuclear weapons fuel.

The United States in particular has been adamant that Pyongyang abandon all nuclear programs, but China and South Korea have defended the North's right to a peaceful program, as long as it is carried out under international guidelines and supervision.

Congressman Tom Lantos said he and Mr. Leach, who chairs the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, warned their North Korean hosts that further delays might endanger the process. "Chairman Leach and I strongly encouraged them to understand that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the focus of the American people will turn inward and that that patience of the American public with dilatory diplomatic delays will be very limited," said Tom Lantos.

The lawmakers said the aim of the next round of talks involving China, Japan, Russia, North and South Korea and the United States, will be to come up with an agreement on principles - as the start of a process toward a more comprehensive agreement.

The crisis centers on demands by the United States and others for North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs completely and verifiably, in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.