- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 9, 2009

SEOUL | President Obama’s top envoy for North Korea warned of “consequences” if the regime pushes ahead with a threatened atomic test and urged Pyongyang to instead return to dialogue with Washington to defuse nuclear tensions.

Stephen Bosworth arrived in Seoul from Beijing just hours after North Korea accused the Obama administration of having a hostile policy toward Pyongyang, saying it would expand its nuclear arsenal in response.

“Nothing would be expected from the U.S., which remains unchanged in its hostility toward its dialogue partner,” North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried Friday by state media. The North “will bolster its nuclear deterrent as it has already clarified.”

Mr. Bosworth urged North Korea - which shocked the world by conducting a nuclear test in 2006 - not to carry out another atomic test, as the communist regime has threatened to do in retaliation for U.N. sanctions over its recent rocket launch.

“If the North Koreans decide to carry out a second nuclear test, we will deal with consequences of that. And there will be consequences,” Mr. Bosworth told reporters, without elaborating.

“But we can’t control at this stage what North Korea does. We certainly very much hope that they will not do a second nuclear test,” he said.

However, Mr. Bosworth said Washington is ready and willing to hold direct talks with Pyongyang.

“We would not interpret our policy as being hostile. … President Obama has stressed on numerous occasions that the door to dialogue remains open,” he told reporters after talks with Seoul’s foreign minister. He said he hopes the North Koreans realize “it is in their interest to continue dialogue and negotiation on a multilateral basis.”

The Obama administration has maintained support for the ongoing six-party nuclear negotiations, and Mr. Bosworth this week also offered direct talks between U.S. and North Korean envoys.

Analyst Paik Hak-soon at the Sejong Institute think tank said the North is trying to force Washington into higher-level direct talks in an attempt to reach a grand give-and-take deal. He said the regime appears to think the current envoy, Mr. Bosworth, is not senior enough.

Mr. Bosworth’s trip to the region came as North Korea continued to ratchet up nuclear tensions after its April 5 rocket launch.

The U.N. Security Council condemned the launch and punished the regime by slapping sanctions on three North Korean firms.

North Korea retaliated by quitting the nuclear negotiations, expelling U.S. and U.N. inspectors and warning it may conduct nuclear or long-range missile tests if the U.N. and Washington refuse to apologize for the censure.

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