- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 8 (UPI) — The United States is prepared to have direct talks with North Korea over its restarted nuclear weapons program but will not offer new inducements for Pyongyang to return to compliance with its 1994 agreement with Washington, the White House said Wednesday.

The nod on talks, an apparent softening of the earlier U.S. stance, came after meetings in Washington among U.S. officials and South Korean and Japanese diplomats.

"They should not expect the United States to give them new inducements," spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The United States will not offer a quid pro quo" to North Korea to live up to its obligations."

North Korea last month expelled international weapons inspectors and reportedly began unsealing spent fuel rods from a closed nuclear plant after Washington stopped desperately needed fuel oil supplies that were to be delivered as part of a 1994 deal under which North Korea abandoned its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The shutdown was prompted by Pyongyang's admission of having violated the agreement early on by starting an illicit uranium enrichment program.

Analysts believe the North, dogged by widespread hunger and poverty, had embarked on a high-stakes game of brinksmanship to obtain more Western aid and enhance its diplomatic standing.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, an arm of the United Nations, deplored the North Korean move and issued it a last warning — come back into compliance or it would take the issue before the U.N. Security Council, which could authorize action such as sanctions or even military force.

Pyongyang's response: Any imposition of sanctions would be considered an act of war.

North Korea has a standing army of about 1 million men along its border with South Korea, which it invaded in 1950.

South Korea, whose capital is within artillery range of the border, has about 700,000 troops. The United States maintains about 37,500 soldiers in the country.

Pyongyang is believed to already possess one or two nuclear weapons.

South Korea, which has pursued a "sunshine" policy with the North, together with Japan and the United States, has also urged China and Russia to pressure North Korea.

Later this week, a senior South Korean national security official will meet with administration personnel in Washington; senior U.S. diplomats will also visit Asia to fashion joint actions in response to Pyongyang's challenge.

North Korea is demanding direct negotiations with Washington and a formal non-aggression treaty.

The United States has said such a pact is unnecessary, and it will not be blackmailed into new economic aid.

Fleischer said that in any talks with North Korea, the United States "would like to hear from North Korea what steps they are taking to come back into compliance."

North Korea caused the current situation, it said, and knows what it must do to end it.

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