- The Washington Times - Friday, July 24, 2009

PHUKET, Thailand | So much for diplomacy with North Korea.

The Pyongyang government and the Obama administration’s chief diplomat Thursday escalated a war of words, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton telling Pyongyang it has “no friends” and North Korea calling her “vulgar” and criticizing her appearance.

Representatives of both nations were at an annual Asian security summit that the countries have used in the past to engineer high-level encounters. This year, the two traded insults and even found themselves competing for the same stage to address the media.

The back-and-forth further diminished hopes that the Obama administration will be able to lure North Korea back to long-stalled nuclear talks.

Mrs. Clinton said Thursday that the Stalinist state “has no friends left” to defend it, pointing to an almost universal reprimand of the North at the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“Unfortunately, the North Korean delegation offered only an insistent refusal to recognize that North Korea has been on the wrong course,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters. “In their presentation today, they evinced no willingness to pursue the path of denuclearization, and that was troubling.”

She said countries throughout Asia - including North Korean ally China - as well as Europe and Russia made it clear to Pyongyang that it has “no place to go.”

Earlier, the Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang released a statement personally attacking Mrs. Clinton as a “funny lady” with odd looks.

“Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping,” a ministry spokesman was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.

The insults were an apparent response to Mrs. Clinton’s characterization of North Korea earlier this week as a “spoiled child” and “unruly teenager” constantly seeking attention.

The North called Mrs. Clinton’s remarks “vulgar.”

On Tuesday, Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration was willing to offer a “comprehensive package” of economic and political incentives to the North if it scraps its nuclear program.

However, a spokesman for the North Korean delegation, which was led by a midlevel diplomat at the meeting of foreign ministers, made it clear to reporters that his government has no intention of returning to six-nation talks on the North’s nuclear program, which has included two tests of nuclear devices.

“The six-party talks are already dead,” roving ambassador Ri Hung-sik said of the negotiations, which, in addition to the U.S. and North Korea, include China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

“Hearing about the ‘comprehensive package,’ I should say this is basically nonsense,” Mr. Ri said, accusing Washington of having a “deeply rooted hostile policy” toward his country.

Mrs. Clinton said that Washington will now focus exclusively on implementing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874, which last month imposed financial and trade sanctions on the North and called on countries to interdict ships if they are thought to be carrying suspicious North Korean cargo.

She also put tougher conditions on Pyongyang to get any benefits.

“We do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table,” she said. “We will not give them anything new for actions they have already agreed to take. And we have no appetite for pursuing protracted negotiations that will only lead us right back to where we have already been.”

North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in 2005 and to specific steps to achieve that goal several months later. It disabled most of its main plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon but recently restarted it, accusing the U.S. of being too slow to grant it promised benefits.

The Obama administration offered the North direct bilateral talks as soon as it came to office, only to see a second nuclear test and several ballistic missile launches in response.

Some observers have suggested that the North’s belligerent behavior is in part a reflection of the country’s desire to appear strong during the transition from the rule of Kim Jong-il, who is reportedly very ill, to one of his sons.

The secretary said that all Asian countries pledged to help implement Resolution 1874, including Myanmar, another U.S. adversary also known as Burma.

“There is a positive direction that we see with Burma,” Mrs. Clinton said. She also suggested that Myanmar may have helped to persuade a North Korean cargo ship suspected of carrying illicit arms to return home instead of reaching its destination, which U.S. officials suspect to have been Myanmar.

Minutes before Mrs. Clinton held her press conference in the Thai resort city of Phuket, the North Korean delegation wanted to take the stage where she was to speak but was stopped by the secretary’s aides.

The Americans had reserved the briefing room from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., but Mrs. Clinton did not show up until after 2 p.m., because the ASEAN meetings ran longer than scheduled. In the meantime, the North Koreans had reserved the 1:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. slot and appeared on time.

Because the stage had been set for Mrs. Clinton, her aides were reluctant to let the North Koreans precede her. After they said they needed only a few minutes, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly agreed to let them go ahead.

However, after huddling behind the stage, the North Koreans held their press conference by the concierge desk of the hotel where the ASEAN summit took place.

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