- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday accused Pyongyang of setting unacceptable “preconditions” for a new round of talks on the Korean nuclear crisis, after a North Korean spokesman dismissed a U.S.-backed blueprint for dealing with the standoff.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is prepared at any time for a second round of six-nation talks in Beijing on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but that Pyongyang’s demands are holding up the negotiations.

“It’s not time for one side, such as North Korea, to start making a long list of things they might demand in advance of the talks,” Mr. Boucher said.

In a statement reported on North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, a Foreign Ministry spokesman brushed aside a reported draft statement worked out by the United States, Japan and South Korea to end the standoff.

The draft reportedly calls for a series of “coordinated steps” by the United States and its allies to meet the North’s security and economic needs once Pyongyang agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.

“According to what is now afloat and what we hear, the U.S. [position] is greatly disappointing to us,” the North Korean statement said. “It is unthinkable for us to allow ourselves to be disarmed believing in the lukewarm commitment of the U.S., the hostile partner,” it said.

The North Korean statement laid out a series of demands that it said must be met before Pyongyang will “freeze” its nuclear programs, including an end to military and economic sanctions; the removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism; binding security guarantees; and the resumption of oil and electricity aid by the United States and other regional players.

President Bush, who met with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao at the White House yesterday, praised Beijing’s role in organizing the six-party talks.

The first round of the talks — which included China, the United States, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia — broke up in August without much apparent progress, and South Korean diplomats say it increasingly is unlikely that a second round can be organized before the end of the year.

A White House official, briefing reporters after the Bush-Wen meeting, said the Chinese delegation “indicated they felt there was a developing consensus on this issue, but that we had not yet reached the point where a second round could be convened.”

Mr. Bush made clear yesterday that the United States would not settle for a mere halt in North Korea’s nuclear programs, which Washington maintains violate promises Pyongyang made under a 1994 deal with the Clinton administration.

“The goal is not a freeze of the nuclear program,” Mr. Bush said after private talks with Mr. Wen. “The goal is to dismantle the nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way.”

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