Monday, August 4, 2003

The White House yesterday stood behind a top arms-control official’s description of life in North Korea as a “hellish nightmare” and rejected Pyongyang’s demand that he be banned from upcoming talks on the North’s nuclear weapons program.

President Bush will decide who represents the United States, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters in Crawford, Texas, where Mr. Bush is spending a monthlong working vacation.

John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, “was speaking for the administration,” Mr. McClellan said. “His remarks last week reiterated things that we have said in the past.”

In the administration’s latest verbal spat with North Korea, Mr. Bolton lashed out in a speech in Seoul in which he called that country’s leader, Kim Jong-il, a “tyrannical dictator.”

Mr. Bolton said: “Hundreds of thousands of [Mr. Kims] people [are] locked in prison camps, with millions more mired in abject poverty, scrounging the ground for food. For many in North Korea, life is a hellish nightmare.”

The North Korean Foreign Ministry issued a response through the official Korean Central News Agency, saying of Mr. Bolton that “such human scum and bloodsucker is not entitled to take part in the talks.”

On North Korea’s demand that Mr. Bolton be excluded from negotiations, Mr. McClellan said yesterday: “The president of the United States makes the decisions about who participates in the delegations for the United States of America.”

Besides the United States and North Korea, the talks are to include China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

At the State Department in Washington, spokesman Philip Reeker declined to comment on North Korea’s response.

“We are not going to dignify North Korean comments about our undersecretary of state,” Mr. Reeker said. “I think the undersecretary’s speech speaks for itself…. It was a speech that reflected some obvious truths, and let’s just leave it at that.”

The United States and North Korea said last week that they would hold six-party talks, but the date and location have not been announced.

In another development, former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright writes in a memoir to be published next month that President Clinton invited Mr. Kim to visit Washington in late 2000.

Mrs. Albright also chides the Bush administration for not having continued Mr. Clinton’s policy of engagement with North Korea.

She writes that Mr. Clinton, being forced by the eruption of violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians in fall 2000 to dedicate most of his remaining time in office to the Middle East, decided not to take a trip to Pyongyang.

“In a final effort to sidestep this choice, we invited Chairman Kim to come to Washington. The North Koreans replied that they could not accept the invitation,” Mrs. Albright says in an excerpt from her book, “Madame Secretary,” published by Vanity Fair magazine in its September issue.

“Given the public character of Kim’s invitation to us, the lateness of our invitation to him and the importance of ‘face’ in East Asian diplomacy, this response was unsurprising but also unfortunate,” she writes.

Mrs. Albright is the highest U.S. official to have visited North Korea since the communist state was created more than five decades ago. She met with Mr. Kim in Pyongyang in October 2000, but the two sides failed to reach an agreement on the North’s missiles.

“We wanted [North Korea] to refrain from the production, testing, deployment and export of whole classes of missiles (including those threatening Japan) in return for our agreement to arrange for civilian North Korean satellite launches under safeguards outside the country,” she writes.

In exchange for these and other concessions, the Clinton administration was ready to offer “full normalization of relations” between Washington and Pyongyang, which never have had formal diplomatic ties.

After assuming office in 2001, Mr. Bush said he did not trust Mr. Kim and refused to deal with his regime.

In October 2002, the North admitted to having developed a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of a 1994 nuclear deal with the Clinton administration.

Early this year, it reopened its plutonium plant in Yongbyon and says it has reprocessed 8,000 spent fuel rods to extract plutonium.

Uranium and plutonium can be used to make atom bombs. Neither assertion has been independently confirmed, in part because of the absence of international monitors in the reclusive country.

The Bush administration began an effort in late winter to convene a multilateral forum to resolve the nuclear standoff, but the North insisted on direct dialogue with the United States.

Last month, after the administration agreed to invite Russia to a meeting that was to include only China, Japan and South Korea, Pyongyang accepted Washington’s offer.

Talks are expected in a matter of weeks, possibly in early September, if not before that. Pyongyang said yesterday that the talks will be held in Beijing, which hosted a U.S.-China-North Korea meeting in April, but no venue has been officially announced.

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