- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 10 (UPI) — President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin held talks Friday over North Korea's withdrawal from the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and expressed the "common purpose" of keeping the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons, the White House said.

Pyongyang's planed withdrawal from the accord was announced by the North Korean government Friday morning. It later sent a formal letter of withdrawal to Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency.

Its withdrawal, which under the treaty required a 90-day notice, would take effect Saturday, Jan. 11, it said.

"I think it's fair to say that North Korea has decided that it wants to stick its finger in the eye of the world," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "This is not an action North Korea has taken vis—vis the United States, this is an action that North Korea has taken vis—vis the world."

"North Korea may want to isolate it as a matter with the United States, but that's far from reality."

The North Korean letter to ElBaradei blamed its actions on Washington.

"Rather than providing the DPRK (Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea) with formal assurances against the use of nuclear weapons, the Bush administration, labeling the DPRK as 'axis of evil' and designating it a target for its nuclear preemptive strike," destroyed the foundation and spirit of the non-proliferation treaty, the 1994 Agreed Framework between North Korea and the United States, and other agreements.

Ri Je Son, director general of the North Korean Department of Atomic Energy and author of the letter, said North Korea does not intend at the moment to produce nuclear weapons, and if the United States "gives up its hostile policy" Pyongyang would allow U.S. inspectors into the country for verification.

The White House said Friday the telephone conversation between Bush and Ziang lasted about 15 minutes; both leaders viewed North Korea's latest move as "a concern to the entire international community."

"The president said that this binds us in common purpose … and stressed the United States has no hostile intentions toward North Korea and sought a peaceful, multilateral solution to the problems caused by Pyongyang's actions," Fleischer said.

North Korea made the withdrawal move despite an earlier warning by the IAEA that it would refer Pyongyang's actions to the U.N. Security Council if Pyongyang did not return to compliance with nuclear accords it signed and allowed a return of inspectors expelled in December.

North Korea, in defiance of a 1994 agreement with the United States, has said it was reopening a shuttered nuclear reactor believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. It also said it was retrieving spent fuel rods that had been put in storage and which could be used for nuclear weapons.

The move came after the United States cut off fuel oil aid to Pyongyang because the North Koreans admitted in October to violating the 1994 pact by clandestinely implementing another program to obtain nuclear weapons products.

The current standoff is similar to that in 1993-94, in which the Clinton administration reportedly contemplated a pre-emptive strike on the Yongbyon nuclear reactor to stop North Korea's attempt to obtain nuclear weapons. Instead, it induced North Korea to stand down with offers of fuel oil and other aid.

The CIA believes the North Korean regime already has one or two nuclear warheads, developed before the 1994 accord.

"I think it's fair to say that when you look at the history of North Korea and its dealing with multiple nations around the world, their approach is that the worse they act, the more they get," Fleischer said. "And that's an approach that this administration will not be a party to.

"The president's approach to this matter will remain a diplomatic approach, a matter of steady and steely diplomacy," he said.

Fleischer said North Korea's withdrawal from the non-proliferation treaty was "not a surprise development" but was "disappointing."

Analysts believe the North Korean bluster is a ploy for additional aid, while achieving the status of a nuclear power.

North Korea has insisted on a formal non-aggression pact from the United States and direct negotiations to bring it back into compliance with the 1994 agreement, which shuttered Yongbyon.

In an apparent bow to South Korean and Japanese positions, Washington shifted track and said this week it was willing to hold direct talks with North Korea, but no negotiations would take place.

It also continues to insist a formal non-aggression pack was unneeded since Bush has repeatedly said the United States has no military intent toward the isolated nation, which maintains a million-man army on its border with South Korea.

North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil, in an unprecedented news conference in New York Friday said the no-negotiation policy of Washington showed what was "not a sincere attitude."

The situation on the Korean peninsula was "getting worse," he added, and "no one can predict the future."

North Korea has said any attempt by the United States or United Nations to impose sanctions over its restarted nuclear program would be considered an act of war.

ElBaradei was meeting Friday in Washington with Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Some 180 nations are signatories to the non-proliferation treaty. The import of its withdrawal is that its weapons programs would not be open to international inspections, something it achieved through expulsions. It could also complicate the ability of the U.N. Security Council in imposing sanctions on North Korea.

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