NZ dangles promise of engagement for North Korea

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BEIJING, Nov 17 (Reuters) New Zealand's Foreign Minister held out the promise of deeper international engagement for North Korea if it follows through with nuclear disarmament steps, saying today that aid and investment could follow.

North Korea has been isolated over its atomic ambitions, but, under a multilateral agreement, its steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons programmes are to be matched with diplomatic normalisation and moves in the United States to remove the country from its terrorism blacklist.

''I left the clear impression with the North Koreans that there is an enormous community out there that I believe would back their cooperation on this issue with significant investment and aid into the Korean people,'' New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters told reporters in Beijing.

''I don't think we can underscore how important that is for a country that's fallen behind economically and socially.'' Peters made the comments following a trip to the North -- the first for a New Zealand minister since the two countries established formal ties in 2001 -- where he met number two leader Kim Yong-nam, and the foreign, trade and agriculture ministers.

He said they discussed opportunities for cooperation in training and agriculture for the North, which is so poor it cannot feed its people or afford electricity to run its factories, but that no agreements were finalised.

He also extended an invitation for North Korean officials to visit New Zealand.

''They need to see how far the rest of the world is moving,'' he said.

North Korea reaffirmed its commitment to a disarmament agreement reached at six-party talks that group the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China, Peters said.

Under the agreement, North Korea is to disable its main nuclear complex by the end of the year in exchange for aid and an end to international ostracism. Further steps to completely dismantle its atomic programme are to follow.

Despite recent progress, there are several complicating factors.

Japan is urging the United States to keep North Korea on its terror list until a dispute about the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s is resolved. The issue has kept Tokyo and Pyongyang from normalising ties.

But Peters said the kidnapping issue and other negotiation points should not be allowed to derail denuclearisation.

''A failure would be dramatically sad here, and success would be of enormous value and interest to the North Korean people.'' REUTERS SYU SSC1155

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