- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2003

A senior administration official yesterday suggested the United States could move on granting North Korea some degree of security guarantees before Pyongyang completely and verifiably ended its nuclear-weapons program.

“It would not be correct to say they would have to do everything before they hear anything,” the official said, indicating a more flexible approach by the United States toward the closed communist state.

The official said that work toward ending North Korea’s nuclear-arms capability was an “onionlike process” that included “layer after layer after layer, in which you go into further and further details, particularly of verification.”

He added that Washington had not yet completely decided on what those steps needed to be, as it was too early in the negotiating process to spell out those types of details.

“We made clear that we can sincerely discuss security concerns in the context of nuclear dismantlement, and that we are willing to discuss a sequence of denuclearization measures with corresponding measures on the part of both sides.”

The official denied that process was rewarding North Korea.

“There is a difference from rewarding behavior that has been previously promised and previously rewarded, and working in a step-by-step process that solves a problem,” he said.

But the official made it very clear that any inflammatory move by North Korea, such as testing its nuclear capabilities, would be “detrimental to its own security.”

North Korea last week told the U.S. delegation to six-party talks in Beijing aimed at defusing the nuclear crisis that it was considering testing its nuclear weapons and its capacity to deliver them.

“These words are very disturbing, and I hope people realize provocative action can and will have consequences,” either on the progress of the talks or “something more than that,” the official said.

“Actions such as those suggested by the DPRK would be very detrimental to its quest for its own security,” he warned, using the acronym for the North Korea’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The official yesterday said the threat was made twice during the course of the three days of talks held in Beijing Aug. 27-29 attended by delegations from South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, North Korea and the United States.

In the first instance, the Pyongyang team spoke directly with the U.S. team at the end of the first day’s plenary session. The American representatives responded that the North Korean statement was “very disturbing and based on false statements and assumptions” of U.S. policy, and promptly reported the comments to Washington.

North Korea repeated its threat to all six parties the following day, in what the official described as “the candid part of their scripted presentation.”

Despite North Korea’s aggressive rhetoric, the official said he expected another round of talks to take place in Beijing before the end of the year. The Pyongyang team, he added, had made “considerable efforts to be personal and engaging, in a way.”

“We’ve laid, I think, a groundwork for progress, if that progress is going to be possible, and it’s not yet clear whether that will be so,” he said.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the United States will not be bullied by North Korean threats to give up its demand that Pyongyang end its nuclear-weapons program.

“The way forward is not helped by threats and truculent statements that are designed to try to frighten the international community,” Mr. Powell said after meeting South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan.

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