- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 (UPI) — The United States said Tuesday it expects North Korea to dismantle its Yongbyon nuclear reactor facilities to ensure North Korea's inability in the future to once again "blackmail" the international community with the threat of producing nuclear weapons.

"The important issue here is that North Korea take that action (to return to compliance with previous agreements) and do so in a real way, in a verifiable way, and in a way that is dismantling of the facilities," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

"Otherwise, the world can right away be in this same position again, where the world takes North Korea at its word; North Korea sees if it can get anything, and then North Korea plays this blackmail game again. This is a road the world has traveled down before, which is a dead-end road, and we have no interest in traveling back down that path."

When asked by a reporter if he meant actual dismantlement of the Yongbhyon reactor, Fleischer repeated his answer.

Under the 1994 accord with Washington, North Korea had only been required to shutter the 5-megawatt facility that produced fuel rods from which weapons-grade plutonium could be extracted.

Washington believes Pyongyang currently has one or two nuclear warheads, with the ability to deliver them regionwide.

The dismantlement requirement added a new wrinkle in the Washington-Pyongyang nuclear dispute. It also came just minutes before President George W. Bush further buffed a comment made by a senior U.S. envoy by appearing to offer North Korea an inducement for returning to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty regime and abandoning the pursuit of nuclear weaponry.

"We expect them not to develop nuclear weapons," the president said. "And if they so choose to do so — their choice — then I will reconsider whether or not we will start the bold initiative that I talked to Secretary Powell about."

Bush said that prior to North Korea being presented evidence of its violation of the 1994 Agreed Framework with the United States to abandon nuclear weapons development in exchange for aid, the administration was about to launch a "bold initiative" that would include the food and energy sectors.

The initiative, which the United States said fell through after Pyongyang admitted to violating the accord, was a major outreach to North Korea, which the administration had branded part of the "axis of evil." The Bush administration held North Korea previously at arms length instead of following up on contacts made by the Clinton administration.

The United States had repeatedly said it would offer no inducements to North Korea to return to its commitments, because that would be rewarding what was seen as a game of nuclear brinksmanship to garner more aid and status. It also said it would hold no negotiations with North Korea on returning to compliance.

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, during a visit to the South Korean capital Monday, appeared to backtrack on that policy by saying that once the standoff with Washington was resolved, there could be aid and investment in helping North Korea meet its energy needs.

The United States, together with its allies, provided Pyongyang with hundreds of tons of fuel oil annually under the 1994 agreement, but suspended shipments following the October disclosure. Also put on hold was help in building two light-water nuclear reactors.

The White House said the comments, however, did not represent a change in policy.

Earlier, the White House said it was willing to hold talks with North Korea, but said the talks would not constitute negotiations.

The two moves appear appeasements to South Korea and Japan, which want to continue engagement with North Korea.

Also missing from U.S. comments recently are references to economic sanctions, which North Korea said would be considered an act of war.

Bush, from the start, has said the dispute with North Korea was a diplomatic issue, rather than a military one. Consultations have been held with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea on how to deal with the crisis.

China has now offered itself as a venue to talks between Washington and Pyongyang, and both Russia and China are attempting to act as intermediaries to diffuse tensions.

Fleischer said he hoped the missions would be a prelude to resolution.

"The ball remains in North Korea's court when it comes to talking with the United States," he said in a news briefing. "The statement that you heard that came out saying the United States will talk to North Korea about them getting back into compliance remains, and we have not heard back from North Korea on that point.

"As I indicated, we welcome any of the conversations our allies have with North Korea."

North Korea expelled international weapons inspectors and pulled out of the non-proliferation treaty after Washington stopped the fuel oil shipments. It then threatened to reopen the Yongbyon reactor and also resurrect its missile-testing program.

North Korea is demanding a formal, non-aggression treaty with the United States and direct negotiations, despite Washington's repeated statement that it does not intend to attack the North.

North Korea — internationally isolated and deeply impoverished — has a 1 million-man army, with most of the troops arrayed along the Demilitarized Zone with South Korea, which it invaded in 1950.

A military conflict on the Korean peninsula could lead to tens of thousands of deaths and battles unseen since the end of the Korean conflict.

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