- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 12, 2005

The White House yesterday categorically ruled out one-on-one talks with North Korea and attempted to ease the reclusive communist nation’s worries that the United States might launch an attack to neutralize its nuclear weapons program.

“We’ve made it very clear that no one has an interest in attacking North Korea,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, stressing that the regime of Kim Jong-il must re-engage in talks with regional neighbors Russia, Japan, South Korea and China if it wants to communicate directly with the United States.

“I think all parties in the region recognize that they have a stake in North Korea ending its nuclear weapons program,” Mr. McClellan said. “We’ve made very clear our view — it is a view shared by the other parties to the talks — [that] the six-party talks are the way to resolve this matter in a peaceful and diplomatic way.

“We’ve also made very clear that North Korea has ample opportunity to visit directly with us in the context of the six-party talks, and they have had ample opportunity in the past to do so,” he said.

North Korea has tried in vain to establish a bilateral relationship with the United States since President Bush took office in 2001, trying to use the specter of its nuclear program as leverage to obtain food, oil and money for the impoverished nation.

The president, however, has flatly refused, pointing to how North Korea quickly went back on its word to stop its nuclear program after former President Jimmy Carter brokered a lucrative aide deal with the Clinton administration in 1994.

“You have to remember that the bilateral approach of the previous administration did not work,” Mr. McClellan said. “North Korea violated that agreement. They chose to defy the international community. That’s why this president thought that the best way to approach this was through the six-party talks.”

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, strongly criticized Mr. Bush’s approach to North Korea during his unsuccessful run for president last year and promised to immediately open bilateral relations with North Korea if he won the election. A spokeswoman for Mr. Kerry said yesterday that the senator was traveling and could not comment on the current standoff between North Korea and the United States.

North Korea announced on Thursday that it had produced nuclear weapons in “self-defense.”

“We have manufactured [the weapons] for self-defense, to cope with the Bush administration’s ever-more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle [North Korea],” the government said in a dispatch to the state news agency.

“If the U.S. moves to have direct dialogue with us, we can take that as a signal that the U.S. is changing its hostile policy toward us,” Han Sung-ryol, a North Korean diplomat at the United Nations, was quoted as saying yesterday by a South Korean newspaper. “We will return to the six-nation talks when we see a reason to do so and the conditions are ripe.”

In a subsequent interview, however, Mr. Han appeared to backtrack.

“No, we do not ask for bilateral talks,” Mr. Han told Associated Press Television News, adding that the key issue for North Korea was whether the United States planned to attack.

North Korea has chafed under Mr. Bush’s designation of it in 2002 as a charter member of the “axis of evil,” and was further irked by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice characterizing the regime as an “outpost of tyranny” during her confirmation hearings in the Senate last month.

Miss Rice said yesterday that she “told the truth” about the nature of the North Korean regime, yet suggested it eventually would agree to end its stonewalling and re-engage in the six-party talks.

“Let’s see what the North Koreans decide to do down the road,” she said. “North Korea can have a different kind of future with the international community if it is prepared to make this strategic decision.”

The longer North Korea delays negotiation, the greater the chance that U.N. sanctions might be imposed — a step the United Nations delayed when the United States floated the idea of six-party talks in 2003.

Yesterday, however, Mr. McClellan did not rule out the possibility of the United States asking the United Nations to get more involved.

“We’ll continue to consult with our allies and to consult with those in the region about how to move forward on this issue,” Mr. McClellan said.

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