- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2005

The Bush administration said yesterday it had no immediate plans to take North Korea to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, rejecting a threat made by a senior Pentagon official on Sunday.

Also yesterday, U.S. officials met with North Korean diplomats in New York to discuss the prospect of Pyongyang returning to six-party talks on its nuclear program.

The Pentagon official, who was traveling with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in Asia and asked not to be named, told reporters that the administration would decide in the coming weeks whether to pursue the U.N. route.

Within hours, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice publicly repudiated the official’s remarks, saying such a decision was nowhere close.

“I think the idea that within weeks we are going to decide one way or another is a little forward-leaning,” Miss Rice said in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where she attended a meeting of the Organization of American States.

“I don’t put timelines on things, and I think the president, he doesn’t put timelines on issues,” she said.

Soon after Miss Rice’s comments, Mr. Rumsfeld found a need to dismiss his aide’s pronouncement, calling it “incorrect and mischievous.”

The meeting in New York, which the North Koreans requested last week, followed a May 13 session in which the United States assured the North that it recognizes and respects its sovereignty, U.S. officials said.

Joseph DiTrani, the State Department’s envoy for talks with North Korea, and James Foster, director of the department’s Korea desk, met with the North’s U.N. ambassador, Pak Gil-yon, and his deputy, Han Song-ryol, the officials said.

“We are hopeful that North Korea will be responding soon,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “We continue to urge North Korea to return to the six-party talks at an early date without preconditions.”

U.S. officials indicated that the North Koreans responded to Washington’s call to rejoin the six-party talks, but they would not say what the response was.

Pyongyang has indicated in the past few weeks that it may be ready to go back to the negotiating table.

Washington’s contacts with the North’s mission to the United Nations, known as the New York channel, is the only direct link between the two governments.

“We’ll use it whenever necessary. But we do not believe in bilateral negotiations with the North Koreans. We meet with the North Koreans in the context of the six-party talks,” Miss Rice told CNN’s Spanish network.

“We believe that this is the best way to make certain that North Korea gets a consistent and coherent message from all of the members of the neighborhood that their nuclear weapons program simply has to go,” she said.

In Tokyo yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was quoted as saying that he thinks North Korea “really does want somehow to hold six-party talks and resolve the matter.”

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