SEOUL -- Pyongyang, calling a senior American official "human scum" for criticizing North Korea's leader, banned him from U.S.-proposed multilateral talks on its suspected development of nuclear weapons.
North Korea said that it won't deal with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton because he described communist leader Kim Jong Il as a "tyrannical dictator" and said "life is a hellish nightmare" for many North Koreans.
Mr. Bolton made the remarks during a visit to South Korea last week.
"Such human scum and bloodsucker is not entitled to take part in the talks," said a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to the North's official KCNA news agency.
"We have decided not to consider him as an official of the U.S. administration any longer nor to deal with him," the unidentified spokesman said.
He said, however, that there was no change in Pyongyang's decision to hold six-country talks on the nuclear issue.
The countries involved are expected to be North Korea, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.
The United States said yesterday it was committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff and was not trying to end Mr. Kim's rule.
In an interview with selected U.S. media outlets, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the six-way talks can allay the North's fears of a U.S. invasion.
"Our policy, the president's policy, is to work diplomatically with our partners and the North Koreans to find a diplomatic political solution," Mr. Powell said in the interview, made public yesterday.
Mr. Powell was asked about a previous comment by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz that Mr. Kim's administration was "teetering on the edge of economic collapse." Mr. Wolfowitz said that could be used as "a major point of leverage" against Mr. Kim.
"I don't have a basis for saying there is an imminent collapse," Mr. Powell said.
"Right now there is a government there. It's been there for a lot of decades, and that's what I have to deal with," Mr. Powell said. "What the situation would be following a catastrophic collapse, I don't really know. I don't think it's anything that any of North Korea's neighbors at the moment wish to see."
Mr. Powell said the pending talks could lead to more U.S. help for "the people of North Korea." But he denied that the Bush administration used aid for the impoverished state to lure Mr. Kim into accepting the multilateral format.
Pyongyang agreed to the six-way talks despite saying for months it would only consent to bilateral talks with the United States. The North says it will work on the sidelines of the negotiations to push for one-on-one talks with Washington, which has insisted on multilateral talks because it says the North's nuclear program is a regional concern.
No date has been set for the talks, which are expected to be held in China, and no decision has been made on the level of the officials who will attend.
A Japanese newspaper reported yesterday that Washington and Tokyo have begun talks on forming an inspection team to ensure that North Korea eliminates its nuclear program.
Mr. Bolton discussed details of the plan with senior Japanese officials Friday, after the North had agreed to the multilateral discussions, the Yomiuri Shimbun said.
The inspectors would likely come from the five countries expected to participate in the talks with North Korea, the newspaper said. The report could not be immediately confirmed, and there was no word on whether Pyongyang would allow the inspections.
The United States and North Korea last held official talks in April in Beijing. They've since had unofficial discussions in New York via North Korean diplomats at the United Nations.
The nuclear standoff began in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea acknowledged having a uranium-based nuclear weapons program.
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