The White House yesterday stood behind a top arms-control official’s description of life in North Korea as a “hellish nightmare” and rejected Pyongyang’s demand that he be banned from upcoming talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program.
President Bush will decide who represents the United States, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where Mr. Bush is spending a monthlong working vacation.
John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, “was speaking for the administration,” Mr. McClellan said. “His remarks last week reiterated things that we have said in the past.”
In the administration’s latest verbal spat with North Korea, Mr. Bolton lashed out in a speech in Seoul in which he called that country’s leader, Kim Jong-il, a “tyrannical dictator.”
Mr. Bolton said: “Hundreds of thousands of [Mr. Kims] people [are] locked in prison camps, with millions more mired in abject poverty, scrounging the ground for food. For many in North Korea, life is a hellish nightmare.”
The North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a response through the official Korean Central News Agency, saying of Mr. Bolton that “such human scum and bloodsucker is not entitled to take part in the talks.”
On North Korea’s demand that Mr. Bolton be excluded from negotiations, Mr. McClellan said yesterday: “The president of the United States makes the decisions about who participates in the delegations for the United States of America.”
Besides the United States and North Korea, the talks are to include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
At the State Department in Washington, spokesman Philip Reeker declined to comment on North Korea’s response.
“We are not going to dignify North Korean comments about our undersecretary of state,” Mr. Reeker said. “I think the undersecretary’s speech speaks for itself…. It was a speech that reflected some obvious truths, and let’s just leave it at that.”
The United States and North Korea said last week that they would hold six-party talks, but the date and location have not been announced.
In another development, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright writes in a memoir to be published next month that President Clinton invited Mr. Kim to visit Washington in late 2000.
Mrs. Albright also chides the Bush administration for not having continued Mr. Clinton’s policy of engagement with North Korea.
She writes that Mr. Clinton, being forced by the eruption of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians in fall 2000 to dedicate most of his remaining time in office to the Middle East, decided not to take a trip to Pyongyang.