- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2004

The Bush administration yesterday expressed skepticism about North Korea’s commitment to resolving the nuclear standoff on the peninsula, despite this week’s pledge by Kim Jong-il, the reclusive North Korean leader, to show “patience and flexibility” in negotiations.

Responding to Chinese and North Korean reports about Mr. Kim’s visit to Beijing that ended Wednesday, the State Department said that actions, rather than words, would make a difference in the so-far unsuccessful six-nation discussions on the issue.

“As you know, the North Koreans have avoided any real commitments. And I’m not sure they’ve made any new ones,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.

“It’s time to turn those reports and that support for the six-party process into a reality by North Korea agreeing to talks that can result in the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of its programs,” he said.

A senior State Department official said later that Washington will continue to be skeptical about any rhetoric from Pyongyang “until we see things manifested in some real way.”

The six-party talks include the United States, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, China and Russia.

Mr. Boucher also said that recent revelations about secret cooperation between Pyongyang and Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, have helped to convince the North’s neighbors that it was cheating on a 1994 agreement to freeze its nuclear activities.

“We have made clear that despite North Korean denials, we remain very firm in our understanding that North Korea had nuclear enrichment capabilities, and indeed the information coming out of A.Q. Khan indicates that he did transfer nuclear enrichment technology and equipment to North Korea,” Mr. Boucher said.

In a statement similar to those the Chinese official news agency Xinhua issued on Wednesday, the North Korean agency KCNA reported Mr. Kim’s trip to Beijing for the first time yesterday.

North Korea “would take an active part in the six-party talks with patience and flexibility and make contributions to the progress of the talks,” the agency quoted Mr. Kim as saying.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said China and North Korea agreed to work together to promote a new round of six-party talks.

“It was a very important and successful trip,” Mr. Kong said.

But, significantly, he acknowledged that “differences” between the two countries remained, although he did not elaborate.

In Seoul, South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said he sees a high possibility of progress at the next round of talks.

The North Korean press agency said Mr. Kim invited Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit North Korea and he accepted.

Although the United States has been working on the six-party process for more than a year, the first round of talks was not held until August. But the meeting, as well as the second one in February, achieved little beyond the reading of talking points prepared in advance.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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