- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday rejected a new demand from North Korea that the top U.S. envoy to stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program visit Pyongyang before the North returns to the negotiating table.

Although the White House ruled out bilateral talks, the State Department left open the possibility that the envoy, Christopher R. Hill, might travel to the North.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry said a visit by Mr. Hill would offer a chance for the United States to assure Pyongyang that it is committed to a joint statement issued at the last session of the six-party talks, held in September.

“If the U.S. has a true political intention to implement the joint statement, we kindly invite once again the head of the U.S. delegation to the talks to visit Pyongyang and directly explain it to us,” the official Korean Central News Agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying.

“The U.S. will never be able to find a way of solving the issue if it is so reluctant to sit with the party directly concerned with the issue, while expressing its intention to seek a negotiated settlement of such [a] crucial issue as the nuclear issue,” the KCNA said.

The September statement offered the communist state economic and other benefits if it eliminates its nuclear programs and returns to the nonproliferation regime. China hosts the six-party talks, which also include Japan, South Korea and Russia.

North Korea “committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards,” the statement said.

“The six parties undertook to promote economic cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and investment, bilaterally and/or multilaterally,” it said. “China, Japan, [South Korea], Russia and the U.S. stated their willingness to provide energy assistance to [North Korea].”

The North has refused to return to the table because of financial sanctions the United States subsequently imposed, effectively freezing Pyongyang’s overseas bank accounts after evidence that North Korea is counterfeiting U.S. dollars.

“The United States is not going to engage in bilateral negotiations with the government of North Korea,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said yesterday, noting that talks will be held only within the six-nation format.

But State Department spokesman Tom Casey pointed out that Mr. Hill has talked about going to Pyongyang if a visit would contribute to resolving the issue.

“The main thing here is that we [must] see from the North Koreans a real commitment to the full implementation of the Sept. 19th agreement, and the way to show that is to do what the other five parties want to do, which is restart the six-party talks right away,” Mr. Casey said.

Mr. Hill had dinner with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Gye-gwan, in Beijing in July to prepare the next round of the six-party talks. During a trip to Asia last week, Mr. Hill said he is willing to meet with him again in the same context.

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