- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

GENEVA — North Korean demands for a nonaggression pact with the United States are the key to any resolution of the nuclear standoff between Pyongyang and Washington, North Korean diplomats say.

“A nonaggression pact is the litmus paper for a settlement,” said a North Korean diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The United States, while saying it has no plans to attack North Korea, has been unwilling to negotiate a formal agreement to that effect. “That’s not in the cards,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said last week.

However Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Friday that the Bush administration has “some ideas with respect to security assurances that we will be presenting in due course.”

The North Korean official also said during a visit to Geneva late last week that the United States had been unwilling to negotiate seriously during six-way talks in Beijing, and said the Bush administration had failed to respond to Pyongyang’s proposals.

Washington “should respond to the constructive proposals” made by North Korea during the Beijing talks in late August, the official said.

Asked Friday about the prospects for another round of talks, Mr. Powell said the North Koreans were reported to be considering a new round of talks in December but nothing has been scheduled.

“We are in contact with our colleagues. We are also in contact with the North Koreans through different channels,” he said.

A senior diplomat from a major power familiar with the six-way talks in August — which involved the United States, China, Russia, Japan, North and South Korea — said Washington had agreed in those talks to provide “political assurances” to Pyongyang but not legally binding ones.

On Oct. 7, the North’s official KCNA news agency said the existing security assurances from the United States “are nothing but a blank sheet of paper, which can never give any legal guarantee that the Bush administration will not attack [North Korea].”

Threats by the Communist regime of Kim Jong-il to conduct a nuclear-weapons test pose a serious threat to global security, say senior diplomats and experts.

“We have got a precarious situation in northeast Asia because of North Korea,” said Patricia Lewis, director of the Geneva- based U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research.

She said that if North Korea has reprocessed as much plutonium as it claims, “we have a situation far and beyond” their withdrawal earlier this year from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“Are they going to test a nuclear weapon? That’s our biggest fear, because that will spell disaster for the region and international security,” she said.

The assessment of some disarmament diplomats is that North Korea will conduct a nuclear test if the standoff continues, prompting fears that other states such as India and Pakistan could use that as an excuse to resume nuclear testing of their own.

If North Korea tests, Mrs. Lewis said, it will mean they have the bomb, and therefore no more negotiations on the possibility they are bluffing.

A Western diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said, “North Korea keeps on upping the ante. But I’m not sure America would blink.”

A diplomat close to both Washington and Pyongyang, who also declined to be identified, said: “I don’t think the North Koreans realize this is a different [U.S.] government to the previous one.

“They need to be aware this is a very ideological administration. One cannot rule it out that in the end [the United States] might bomb them.”

So far, South Korea and Japan have discouraged the United States from such action, the diplomat said.

On July 31, John Bolton, undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs, said in Seoul:

“Some have speculated that the U.S. is resigned to nuclear weapons on the peninsula, and we will simply have to live with nuclear weapons in the hands of a tyrannical dictator who has threatened to export them. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The complete, verifiable and irreversible elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program through diplomacy remains a top priority of the administration, he said.

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