- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

North Korea yesterday accused the United States of raising a "racket of a nuclear threat" over Pyongyang's uranium and plutonium programs, only hours after Washington made it an offer for dialogue.
"The 'nuclear issue' that renders the situation on the Korean peninsula strained is a product of the U.S. strategy to dominate the world whereby it is working hard to bring a holocaust of a nuclear war to the Korean nation," said the state-controlled KCNA news agency.
While remaining silent on Washington's offer itself, North Korea today proposed holding ministerial-level talks with South Korea Jan. 21-24, a week after dates proposed by Seoul, the South Korean Unification Ministry said.
"North Korea sent a telegram today about setting the dates," a ministry spokesman said, adding that it was discussing the counterproposal for the ninth Cabinet-level meeting since 2000.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration looked past North Korea's belligerence and lack of response to its offer of talks.
"They have continued their current public invective," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. "But we don't consider this a reaction to what we said [Tuesday]. They typically take some time to formulate their policies and to react."
The shift in the U.S. approach to the latest nuclear standoff with North Korea from diplomatic isolation to dialogue was signaled by President Bush on Monday.
The next day, a U.S. delegation met with officials from Japan and South Korea at the State Department, and the three countries issued a joint statement saying the United States "is willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community."
"However, the United States will not provide quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations," the document said.
Senior U.S. officials went out of their way to point out that "talks" and "dialogue" do not mean "negotiations," but they failed to explain what exactly the difference was and how they were going to separate the two.
Arms-control analysts welcomed the administration's course reversal, which many of them had been urging the White House to adopt for months.
"The administration has come upon a strategy that more appropriately deals with the situation and that should not lead to further escalation of the crisis," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
Pyongyang admitted in early October to having secretly developed a uranium-enrichment program in violation of treaty obligations and a 1994 nuclear deal with Washington.

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