- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

SEOUL The United States is willing to consider energy aid for North Korea if Pyongyang ends nuclear weapons development, a U.S. envoy said today.
"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," Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said at a news conference in Seoul.
"We are willing to talk to North Korea about their response to the international community," on the nuclear issue, Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly's remarks offered the first hint by the Bush administration that it is willing to offer North Korea incentives to abandon efforts to build atom bombs.
"The United States will not provide quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations," the Bush administration said Thursday in announcing for the first time that it was willing to talk to the North.
The next day North Korea escalated the crisis another notch by pulling out of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It hinted during the weekend that it might drop a moratorium on missile tests.
Mr. Kelly, who arrived in Seoul late yesterday and met President-elect Roh Moo-hyun early today, said the comments by North Korean envoys, who met New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson during the weekend, were "disappointing."
The comments were similar to public pronouncements by North Korea, he said. Those have included accusations that the United States is plotting to invade the communist country and that North Korea was forced to reactivate its nuclear facilities because Washington reneged on pledges to provide energy.
Mr. Kelly's remarks came hours after North Korea insisted that it had never admitted having a secret nuclear program, sending with colorfully bombastic rhetoric another conflicting signal over its suspected plans to build nuclear weapons.
"The claim that we admitted developing nuclear weapons is an invention fabricated by the U.S. with sinister intentions," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper as saying.
"If the United States evades its responsibility and challenges us, we'll turn the citadel of imperialists into a sea of fire." The term was reminiscent of North Korea's rhetoric in a nuclear crisis eight years ago, in which it threatened to turn Seoul into a "sea of fire."
In October, the United States has said, North Korea admitted during a visit to Pyongyang by Mr. Kelly that it had a previously undisclosed nuclear weapons program.
That announcement which North Korea denied for the first time yesterday touched off the latest standoff.
The Bush administration has cut off monthly shipments of heavy fuel oil that were awarded to North Korea, along with other concessions, in a 1994 deal that ended the last nuclear crisis.
In Seoul, Mr. Kelly also was scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong and two presidential security advisers Yim Sung-joon and Lim Dong-won.
Mr. Roh, who takes office Feb. 25, favors diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute. Washington has expressed willingness to talk with Pyongyang but has ruled out any concessions.
Mr. Kelly will travel to China tomorrow and then to Singapore, Indonesia and Japan.
North Korea claims that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only and says it would resolve outside concerns about its nuclear program through bilateral talks with the United States.
North Korea today again accused Washington of using the U.N. nuclear watchdog as a vehicle to put pressure on it.
"We won't be bound any longer by the safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, as it has been degraded as a U.S. mouthpiece," Kim Ki, vice chairman of the North's State Planning Commission, said on the country's Central Radio Station. "All the workers and officials of the commission are full of burning resolutions to lay a merciless strike on the reckless scheme of the U.S. imperialists and their lackeys." His remarks were reported by the Yonhap news agency.
The United States believes North Korea has one or two nuclear weapons and could make several more within six months if it extracts weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods at a reprocessing plant.
In announcing North Korea's October admission, the United States said Pyongyang had admitted to having an atomic weapons program in violation of the 1994 accord, under which Pyongyang pledged to freeze operations at its nuclear facilities in exchange for energy supplies.
The North then said it would bring reactors at its Yongbyon nuclear facility back online, beginning a series of steps that escalated the crisis.
After announcing its withdrawal from the NPT on Friday, North Korea raised tensions further with the suggestion that it might resume missile testing.
On Saturday, North Korean leaders vowed at a rally attended by 1 million people to "smash U.S. nuclear maniacs" in a "holy war."
New missile tests would be the first since 1998, when North Korea fired a missile over Japan into the Pacific. Pyongyang later set a moratorium on tests that was to last into 2004.
North Korean also left open the possibility of reprocessing spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor for fuel to make atomic bombs.
Son Mun-san, who oversees Pyongyang's relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in Vienna, Austria, that the reprocessing plant now stands in a state of "readiness."
Since the nuclear standoff resumed, the North has removed seals placed on one of its nuclear facilities by IAEA monitors and expelled two U.N. inspectors.
During a visit to Russia that ended yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi urged North Korea to rescind its decision to pull out of the treaty.
"That is what's best for North Korea, for the international community," he said. "And this is true for the United States as well."

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