- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

Direct bilateral talks with North Korea are “not in the cards,” U.S. officials said yesterday, despite mounting fears that Pyongyang is planning a provocative new missile test.

The isolated North Korean regime has long sought direct negotiations with the United States, and North Korea’s deputy chief of mission at the United Nations told a South Korean news agency Tuesday that the North wanted to discuss the missile test directly with the United States.

But the Bush administration said direct talks would undermine the diplomatic alliance built with Japan, Russia, South Korea and China to pressure the North to give up its nuclear weapons programs. U.S. officials said yesterday they would not change tactics under the threat posed by the potential missile test.

U.S.-North Korean direct talks “are not in the cards,” said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli, who accused the North of violating past pledges to abandon its nuclear programs.

“The issue of North Korea’s nuclear program is not a U.S.-North Korea issue, it is an issue that concerns the entire region,” he added.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton said yesterday that the United States would consider a North Korean missile launch over Japan a clear threat to international peace and security.

“The launch of a missile, particularly if it goes over Japanese territory, is clearly a threat to international peace and security, something we can’t accept,” he told CNN.

The ambassador called signs of launch preparations “very serious” but acknowledged Washington does not know what kind of payload the missile carries, and “we don’t know exactly what North Korea has in mind. … It could be this is an exercise. It could be it’s a provocation. It could be it’s a real preparation for a launch.”

Mr. Bolton also urged China, one of Pyongyang’s only allies, to do more to persuade the isolated communist state to stand down from any launch.

North Korea in 1998 stunned Japan with an unannounced firing of a Taepodong missile, which flew over Japanese territory before falling in the Pacific. U.S. intelligence has been monitoring a new Taepodong missile being fueled at a remote base along the North’s eastern coast.

The Washington Times reported this week that the Pentagon has activated its new interceptor missile defense system and would consider trying to shoot down the missile, which is thought to have a range capable of hitting targets in the United States.

U.S. officials say any test would violate a moratorium North Korea agreed to in 1999 and which Pyongyang had reaffirmed as recently as in September at the last round of the so-called “six-party talks” in Beijing.

But no new six-party talks have been held since then, in part because Pyongyang objects to new financial sanctions the Bush administration placed on financial firms that handle much of the regime’s international transactions.

Han Song-ryol, deputy chief of North Korea’s U.N. mission, said the moratorium was only in force as long as Pyongyang and Washington were engaged in active talks.

The State Department’s Mr. Ereli noted that direct U.S.-North Korea contacts are already permitted on the sidelines of the six-party negotiations, but that a separate U.S.-North Korea negotiation totally outside the talks would undermine the multilateral talks.

Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, Mr. Bush’s host in Vienna, said the EU also strongly opposed a North Korean missile test, and said Europe would back a “strong answer from the international community” if the test goes forward.

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