The United States yesterday said it would not give in to blackmail or threats by North Korea that it was ready to prove it had nuclear weapons, but instead would continue to work for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea told U.S. delegates during six-way talks aimed at defusing the Korean nuclear face-off that it was considering announcing that it not only had nuclear arms but was ready to test them.
The Pyongyang statement “is an explicit acknowledgement that [North Korea] has nuclear weapons,” said State Department spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz at the close of three days of talks in China.
“But the United States will not respond to threats or give in to blackmail,” Miss Prokopowicz said, adding that North Korea had a long history of provocative statements.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday discussed the Beijing talks by telephone with the foreign ministers of Japan, South Korea, China and Russia, a State Department official said. South Korean newspapers reported that Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan plans a trip to Washington next week to discuss the talks personally with Mr. Powell.
Despite the fiery rhetoric, the North Korean official news agency said yesterday both Pyongyang and Washington “should make clear their will to clear up bilateral concerns.”
North Korea “will clarify its will to dismantle its nuclear program if the U.S. makes clear its will to give up its hostile policy,” the agency said.
Host China, which has been anxious to see the talks succeed, called the meetings “useful.” China said all six parties came to a consensus on a number of points, including resolving the nuclear crisis through dialogue and avoiding any words or actions that may aggravate the situation.
Chinese diplomats said they hope the parties agree to meet again for a second round of talks.
But diplomats said the failure to agree on a specific date or venue for the next round of negotiations and the failure to agree on a joint communique in Beijing underscored the deep divisions that remain.
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, told the BBC yesterday that North Korea had “to understand that they cannot use blackmail and they have to come back to nonproliferation.”
Russian chief negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov told the Interfax news agency that, “the talks were difficult, sometimes very tense.”
“There was no failure, but there was no breakthrough either,” Mr. Losyukov was quoted as saying.
According to a U.S. administration official, the North Korean outburst took place Wednesday after a short aside between the U.S. and North Korean delegations. Although the talks continued through yesterday, they broke up without any advance.
Miss Prokopowicz insisted the United States would continue to work with China, Russia, South Korea, Japan and North Korea to get Pyongyang to agree to the complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of its nuclear weapons program.
She repeated the U.S. insistence that it has no intention of invading North Korea and that it would “seek a peaceful diplomatic solution” to the crisis.
“So far there is no evidence that they’ve gotten anywhere,” concluded Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“We are now confronting the reality that there is very little we can do to stop them if they go ahead,” he said.
“We talk about economic pressures and sanctions and the nations around there, but the fact is no one is actually willing to risk a war [and] nobody is going to deter North Korea by talking them to death.”
Mr. Cordesman said it would take a combination of diplomatic pressure, working with allies as well as tailoring military forces in the region to put effective pressure on Pyongyang, whom he said also had chemical and biological weapons.
But Mr. Cordesman added the Bush administration might have to learn to live with a nuclear North Korea.
“Deterrence seems much more realistic than denial,” he said.
The nuclear crisis erupted in late 2002, when North Korea acknowledged to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, the lead U.S. envoy to the Beijing talks this week, that it had an active nuclear arms program.
Since then, Pyongyang has kicked out U.N. nuclear inspectors, reactivated its nuclear facilities and claimed it has reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods.
David R. Sands contributed to this report.