- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — North Korea Wednesday rejected the U.S. offer of talks and aid in exchange for the dismantling of its nuclear program, insisting instead that a formal non-aggression pact was the price for resolving the standoff with Washington, which has ratcheted up tensions on the Korean peninsula and the region.

The official Korean Central News Agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as calling the U.S. offer "a deceptive drama," meant, "to mislead the world public opinion."

Washington's "loudmouthed supply of energy and food aid are like a painted cake pie in the sky as they are possible only after the DPRK is totally disarmed," it said, referring to North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

In Washington, U.S officials played down the comments, making it clear that aid — let alone a treaty — would not be forthcoming until North Korea dismantled its nuclear weapons program.

"It's always very hard to read North Korea," Spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "North Korea has a habit of saying very many inflammatory things, and then even their inflammatory things can sometimes contradict themselves. So can their private statements.

"We still await an official response from North Korea (to the offer of talks)."

North Korea's demand for a non-aggression pact as a price for resolving the crisis was a no-go until Pyongyang returned to compliance with earlier agreements to scrap its nuclear weapons program, he said.

"The issue is not what is the United States going to do; the issue is, what is North Korea going to do," Fleischer said. "North Korea needs to begin by dismantling its nuclear programs in a verifiable and irreversible way. That comes first."

At the State Department, officials declined to respond directly to the Korean statement, preferring instead to play up the possibilities presented by dialogue with Pyongyang through third countries.

"I don't think we want to get into a daily back-and-forth over North Korean rhetoric," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "But there are, I think, upcoming events and opportunities for North Korea to say what it has to say, whether in public or in private," he added.

These include a planned summit between North and South Korea, Jan. 21-24. The Chinese and Russians are also sending envoys to North Korea for talks, and Australian and U.N. diplomats have all been in Pyongyang recently. Lacking formal diplomatic relations with the hermitic Communist regime, Washington has relied in some part on China and Russia to bring pressure to bear on the North.

But U.S. officials Wednesday re-iterated their insistence that any talks — whether direct or through third parties — would not be negotiations, but only discussions on how Pyongyang would go about dismantling its nuclear program.

Earlier this week, Kelly made it clear energy aid could follow a North Korean reversal of policy.

"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," Kelly said in Seoul where he was as part of a diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis.

President George W. Bush on Tuesday echoed the offer.

One possible forum for a U.S.-North Korea dialogue could be the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, scheduled for later this month. Secretary of State Colin Powell has not decided yet that he will attend, however Boucher said this week that he was considering putting the summit on his schedule. The North Koreans are also invited to the summit.

But Boucher also said Wednesday there were no plans at this point for a meeting on the sidelines there.

"I don't know of any plan or any indication that they're prepared to go to Davos to meet the needs of the international community… At whatever channel, forum, private or public, they decide to make clear that they're going to do that doesn't matter so much as whether or not they are going to do that."

Fleischer, when asked if a non-aggression pact was possible once North Korea dismantled its nuclear program and returned to compliance with earlier agreements, said "I think the president addressed that yesterday in the Oval Office. This is why the action must take place by North Korea."

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

North Korea, Washington said, had begun a program to produce uranium-enriched nuclear material suitable for weapons soon after it signed the 1994 pact, which shuttered a fast breeder 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 denied last Sunday, came after Kelly presented North Korea with intelligence evidence of the enrichment program during a visit to Pyongyang in Sept. 2002.

Last week, North Korea withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty after expelling international weapons inspectors. It also threatened to restart its missile-testing program.

It said any imposition of economic sanctions against it would mean war.

Also Wednesday, South Korea sent its final batch of rice to North Korea as part of its 400,000-ton loan, which the hunger-stricken North must repay within 30 years after a 10-year grace period.

The Koreas have had eight rounds of Cabinet-level talks since a historic summit of their leaders in 2000. The last round of talks was in October, days after the dramatic results of Kelly's visit were made public in a carefully orchestrated leak by the White House.


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