SEOUL: All North Korea probably wants in return for giving up its nuclear weapons is a little respect, some peace of mind and a whole lot of money. Analysts said Pyongyang had raised the stakes in the diplomatic push to coax it back to the bargaining table when it announced for the first time on Feb 10 it had nuclear weapons.

The North has played brinkmanship before. In 1994 it found it could receive aid worth possibly billions of dollars in return for backing down from its nuclear ambitions. North Korea is a poor and isolated country that has trouble feeding its people and keeping the lights on at night. Despite its dire needs, leader Kim Jong-il has spent heavily to develop nuclear weapons and he expects a hefty return on the investment.

"Their number one priority is survival, regime survival and Kim Jong-il's survival," said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS, a prominent think tank on Asian affairs.

Analysts say one of Pyongyang's long-term goals is to establish diplomatic ties with the United States, a breakthrough which it hopes would open the door for international investment and aid from bodies such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Places North Korea can to turn to for help include South Korea, which has tried to build up economic ties in exchange for better diplomatic relations. China, its main benefactor and Japan, which has a large population of Koreans with ties to the North who provide crucial cash through remittance payments, can also play prominent roles.

LOOKING FOR BILLIONS: North Korea watcher Douglas Shin said Pyongyang's nuclear boast could be aimed at getting as much as $10 billion in compensation for scrapping its weapons programme.

The five parties which have been negotiating with North Korea want a diplomatic agreement that will halt its nuclear programme, dismantle its existing weapons and do so in a verifiable way.

All agree that an arms race in Northeast Asia would be costly and an armed conflict devastating. Three rounds of six-party talks, including North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia, took place before they stalled last year without progress.

Proliferation experts said it was likely that the North had one or two nuclear weapons, but it could have as many as 10. For internal political reasons, Kim needs to show some US concessions, such as bilateral meetings and a security guarantee for the isolated communist state. The North also wants Washington to stop calling it an "outpost of tyranny", analysts said.

When the North made its nuclear weapons boast on Feb 10, it said it was pulling out of the six-party talks. Pyongyang has since hinted at returning to the table if Washington showed "sincerity."

US officials have met directly with the North within the framework of the six-way talks and officials from President George W. Bush's administration have stated that Washington has no hostile intentions towards North Korea.

"North Korea needs to be able to say that it didn't bow down and negotiate given its 'military-first' Songun policy," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University and a leading expert on North Korea. "Giving in on a military issue and the Songun ideology just don't reconcile," Koh said.

GREAT DEALS: The bargaining table can be lucrative for the North. In 1994, when it threatened to pull out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and barred International Atomic Energy Agency officials from inspecting its Yongbyon plutonium reprocessing plant, an international consortium struck a deal to freeze and eventually eliminate Pyongyang's nuclear facilities.

In exchange, the energy-starved country got large heavy fuel oil shipments and ground was broken on two proliferation-resistant, light-water nuclear reactors. Then South Korean president Kim Dae-jung launched his "sunshine policy", that provided the North with economic incentives in exchange for better bilateral ties.

But in October 2002, Washington accused North Korea of cheating on the deal and operating a second, secret atomic weapons programme based on highly enriched uranium. Pyongyang denied that, but then kicked out international inspectors and restarted the plutonium programme at Yongbyon. The light-water reactors were never built and the reclusive state sank deeper into isolation. -Reuters

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