- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

North Korea yesterday rejected as "a deceptive drama" the Bush administration's offer of talks and economic aid, but the White House brushed that statement aside and said it was still waiting for official word from Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, the intensive diplomacy to defuse the latest nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula continued in several capitals, and North Korea and South Korea agreed to hold ministerial talks in Seoul next week.
After more than a week of silence on Washington's "willingness to talk," the North's Foreign Ministry issued a statement yesterday through the official Korean Central News Agency, saying that "in essence, there is no change in the U.S. conditional stand that it would have dialogue with [North Korea] only after it scraps its 'nuclear program.'"
"It is clear that the U.S. talk about dialogue is nothing but a deceptive drama to mislead the world public opinion," the statement said. "We have already clarified that [North Korea] is ready to solve the nuclear issue through negotiations on condition that the U.S. recognizes [North Koreas] sovereignty, assures it of nonaggression and does not obstruct its economic development."
The ministry also said that "the U.S. loudmouthed supply of energy and food aid are like a painted cake pie in the sky as they are possible only after [North Korea] is totally disarmed."
The statement came hours after President Bush dangled food and energy as incentives for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions, reviving a dormant policy once called the "bold approach" for broad-based dialogue with the communist state.
The policy was initiated in the summer of 2001, when Mr. Bush instructed Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to seek comprehensive dialogue with the North that would include discussions "about energy and food," as well as the easing of U.S. economic sanctions.
If North Korea chooses to dismantle its nuclear program, "then I will reconsider whether or not we'll start the bold initiative that I talked to Secretary Powell about," Mr. Bush told reporters Tuesday.
The White House yesterday called the North's statement "unfortunate" but said that the U.S. offer of dialogue still stands.
"North Korea has a habit of saying very many inflammatory things, and then, even in their inflammatory things can sometimes contradict themselves and so can their private statements," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.
"We still await an official response from North Korea, and this is why North Korea has invited such concern around the world upon itself," he said.
The administration's softer stance in the past 10 days came after weeks of maintaining that it would not talk to North Korea until it completely and verifiably dismantles its nuclear program. Washington now says it will talk but not negotiate.
On the diplomatic front yesterday, at least eight countries were engaged in the efforts.
John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, consulted with top British and French officials in London. Mr. Bolton will visit South Korea, China and Japan next week.
James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, held talks in Beijing yesterday after visiting Seoul earlier this week.
An Australian delegation was in Pyongyang, and so was Canadian Maurice Strong, special envoy of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose primary mission was to discuss food aid. Russia also was preparing to send an envoy to Pyongyang, Beijing and Washington.
The North and the South agreed to hold a ninth round of ministerial talks in Seoul Jan. 21-24.


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