- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called prospects of North Korea agreeing to return to six-nation nuclear talks “implausible if not impossible” Thursday, and she vowed to maintain a cutoff of U.S. aid unless the isolated nation changes its mind.

It was the first time the Obama administration signaled its intent to impose bilateral economic measures on North Korea for its recent missile launch and decision to restart its nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, asked Mrs. Clinton during a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing why the administration is seeking $100 million in economic aid for the communist state as part of a suspended multination effort to end the North’s nuclear programs.

“That money is there in the event — which at this point seems implausible, if not impossible — the North Koreans return to six-party talks and begin to disable their nuclear capacity again,” she said. “We have absolutely no interest and no willingness on the part of this administration to give them any economic aid at all.”

Asked by Mr. Brownback if that includes heavy fuel oil, which the United States has been shipping to the North, along with other countries involved in the six-party talks, as part of a deal reached in 2007, Mrs. Clinton said: “Absolutely — that is my very strongly held belief.”

The U.S. halted the shipments late last year when the six nations — the United States, China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas — deadlocked on steps to verify North Korea’s nuclear claims.

North Korea has since defied repeated international warnings and launched what was supposed to be a long-range rocket early this month.

Although the test largely failed, the U.S. won support from the U.N. Security Council for issuing a strong statement condemning the launch. North Korea is demanding an apology from the United Nations.

“They are digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole with the international community,” Mrs. Clinton said. “I think they were shocked that we were able to get the Chinese and Russians on to such a strong statement in the U.N.”

In recent weeks, the North Koreans have expelled U.N. inspectors and U.S. experts at Yongbyon and said that they have begun reprocessing thousands of spent fuel rods with the goal of extracting plutonium for additional nuclear bombs. Before the latest dispute, the North was believed to have made about a half-dozen nuclear bombs.

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