BEIJING – North Korea can’t stall much longer on returning to six-nation talks on the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear crisis, Chinese and U.S. analysts say.

North Korea wanted Sen. John Kerry to win the presidential election because he promised direct talks with Pyongyang over its claim to be building a nuclear arsenal. President Bush’s re-election means Washington is likely to stick to six-party talks as the only way to negotiate how North Korea may give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for aid.

“The North Koreans understand that they have to cut a deal to survive,” said Ralph A. Cossa, the president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a research center in Honolulu. “At some point, they are going to have to come back.”

It’s widely expected in the region that a fourth round of talks may occur as soon as by the end of the year, ending five months of limbo.

Some officials in Asia think the Bush administration may opt soon for a more aggressive approach to North Korea, such as referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council or more vigorously intercepting North Korean vessels on the high seas, if the talks don’t make progress.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon told a Seoul radio station Friday that he thinks the Bush administration will stand by the six-party talks – for now.

“President Bush has maintained the principle of a peaceful settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue over the past four years, and I see that there will be no major changes,” Ban told KBS Radio, according to the semi-official Yonhap news service.

“It is premature to assume that (Bush’s policy) will turn hard-line immediately,” Ban said.

The six parties to the talks are China, which has hosted them, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.

American diplomats put forth their first concrete proposal in June. It offers Pyongyang a three-month period to acknowledge the extent of its nuclear program, allowing some foreign aid and fuel oil to begin flowing to North Korea. After the interim period, international inspectors would oversee the complete dismantlement of Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal, according to the plan.

North Korea never formally responded to the proposal, only declaring that it would refuse to attend any more talks because of Washington’s “hostile policy.”

Chinese analysts said time might be running out for North Korea. Unless it engages in serious negotiations, the United States may declare the talks futile, they said.

“North Korea seemingly will resist taking part in the six-party talks but it has no other channel to resolve differences with the United States,” said Jin Linbo, the director of Asia-Pacific Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, a research center.

Jin said North Korea’s economy was in dire need of aid, and the multilateral talks were the only way to unloose the hundreds of millions of dollars a deal was likely to entail.

“It’s time for North Korea to finally make up its mind – to make concessions or to continue to develop nuclear weapons,” Jin said.

Another analyst, Shi Yinhong, a political scientist at People’s University, said the six-party talks were in crisis because of the lack of “any major results.”

Washington says it’s already increasing pressure on North Korea.

After a naval exercise late last month near Tokyo Bay, which drew Japanese, Australian, French and American participation, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton said the U.S.-led Proliferation Security Initiative, designed to intercept rogue weapons shipments, was crimping North Korea.

“I am pleased to report that North Korean missile-sales revenues have been hurt substantially. Since the proceeds from North Korea’s arms sales go in large part to fund its nuclear-weapons program, this is important news indeed,” Bolton said.

The North Korean regime also is riled by a recent act passed by Congress that will give up to $24 million a year to humanitarian groups that help refugees from North Korea. Under the act’s provisions, which will take effect in January, Bush will name a special envoy on North Korean human-rights issues.

Last month, one of North Korea’s envoys to the United Nations, Han Song Ryol, said in New York that Pyongyang wouldn’t return to the six-party talks unless the United States scrapped the human rights act.

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