- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13 (UPI) — U.S. policy toward North Korea in the stand off over nuclear weapons remains one of no inducements and no negotiations for Pyongyang's scrapping of its soon-to-be restarted nuclear program and return to compliance with international obligations, the White House said Monday.

Comments by a U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in South Korea that energy aid could follow a North Korean reversal of policy was not a change in policy, it said.

The comments were consistent with earlier U.S. statements and those in a joint communiqu with South Korea and Japan, the other two members of the Trilateral Korean Oversight Group, spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"… Except for the fact that he cited one specific sector of what (the communiqu) previously said on the record, I see no difference," he said.

"I think that it's clear that North Korea first knows what it needs to do. And we've always said that if North Korea comes into its international obligations then they will stop isolating themselves.

"… there is a perfect consistency here."

Kelly, who on Tuesday was to visit China to urge Beijing to pressure North Korea to return to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and scrap its nuclear weapons program, had told reporters that a return with compliance could result in financial aid for the struggling Pyongyang regime.

"Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area," he said.

The foreign policy conundrum in Asia erupted late last year when the United States said Pyongyang had violated the 1994 Framework Agreement with Washington to scrap North Korea's nuclear weapons program in return for economic assistance.

North Korea, it said, had begun a program to produce uranium-enriched nuclear material suitable for weapons soon after it signed the 1994 pact, which shuttered a nuclear reactor that produced plutonium, provided for nuclear inspections and led to the sealing of spent fuel rods, from which the weapons-grade plutonium could be extracted.

The admission, which North Korea denies, came after Kelly presented North Korea with intelligence evidence of the enrichment program during a visit to Pyongyang.

The United States declared a no-negotiation policy, saying it would not reward North Korea's illicit activities and breach of agreements. North Korea, it insisted, must abide by its word.

That position appeared to change slightly last week when Washington said it was willing to meet with the North Koreans to discuss the situation but would not negotiate.

U.S. officials, however, insist there has been no shift.

"The United States says it is willing to talk, and this remains an offer North Korea has yet to act upon," Fleischer said Monday. "While the ball is in North Korea's court, North Korea gone around in circles.

"We'll have to see what they do."

Unlike Iraq, Bush is following a diplomatic approach to North Korea, which is believed to already possess one or two nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them. The White House says with Iraq diplomacy is unlikely to work given its past disregard of international mandates and aggression, but with North Korea diplomacy could produce the result desired — North Korea abiding by its international agreements." Fleischer said.

North Korea, ratcheting up tensions in what is believed a strategy of brinksmanship to gain needed aid and possibly also gain international recognition as a nuclear power, last week walked out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty after expelling international weapons inspectors. It also threatened to restart its missile-testing program.

Any imposition of economic sanctions against it, it warned, would be considered an act of war.

Pyongyang wants a formal non-aggression pledge from Washington as well as direct talks and other concessions.

"North Korea wants to take the world through its blackmail playbook, and we won't play," Fleischer said. "It's up to North Korea to come back into international compliance with their obligations. If and when they do that," the United States and the world would pursue "a bold approach" to engagement with the isolated country.

The Bush administration apparently held North Korea at arms length after coming to office, and did not pursue contacts established during the Clinton administration, which negotiated the 1994 accord.

Later, President Bush branded North Korea as part of the "axis of evil" for its proliferation of weapons technology, but continued agreed-upon fuel oil shipments.

White House office officials said Kelly's visit to Pyongyang in October was to have marked a more aggressive policy of engagement with Pyongyang.

North Korea invaded the South in 1950, capturing Seoul, before it was pushed back across the border by U.S.,U.N. and South Korean troops. China fought alongside the North, and still remains its closest ally.

North Korea has more than 1 million soldiers, most of them arrayed along the demilitarized zone between North and South. The South Korean capital is within missile and artillery range of the zone.

Under the 1994 accord, the United States with others provided tons of badly needed fuel oil to North Korea as well as help in building two planned modern nuclear reactors that could not be used to produce weapons materials.

There were also prospects of increased trade and investment to help boost the economy of one of the world's poorest nations, which also receives food aid from international agencies.

North Korea repeatedly accuses the United States of planning to attack it and blames Bush's "axis of evil" remarks for sparking the current crisis. Bush's remarks, however, came in last year's State of the Union address. It is believed North Korea began violating the 1994 accord years before.

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