Wednesday, December 15, 2004

North Korea is waiting for President Bush to offer a more friendly U.S. policy toward the communist state in his upcoming speeches before agreeing to resume stalled nuclear talks, Bush administration officials say.

The tough posture of the communist regime in Pyongyang means the next round of six-nation talks will not be held before February, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Talks were set to resume in September, and officials from China, the United States, South Korea and Japan pressed for more meetings in November, December and January.

North Korea’s position on the talks was relayed last month to China’s government, which was rebuffed in efforts to begin a fourth round of the six-party talks.

A similar message was relayed recently to Joseph R. DeTrani, the State Department special envoy who met in New York with North Korean United Nations officials.

“North Korea is waiting for the president’s Inauguration Day speech,” one official said.

Mr. Bush is expected to set the tone for his second administration in the Jan. 20 speech, to be held in front of the U.S. Capitol.

A State Department official said the North Koreans also have said they will wait to hear Mr. Bush’s State of the Union speech, which usually is held in late January, but could be delayed until early February, because of the inauguration.

“They are looking forward to see who comes in with a new administration and the actions and atmosphere with the new administration,” the State Department official said.

A senior administration official close to the White House said it was too soon to preview what will be contained in the president’s upcoming speeches.

However, the official said: “Our position is the same as it has been. North Korea should abandon their nuclear ambitions and the Korean Peninsula should be nuclear-free.

“There really is no excuse for them not to return to the negotiations.”

North Korea’s government repeatedly has denounced what it views as the “hostile” U.S. policy toward Pyongyang.

Mr. Bush first identified North Korea in a January 2002 speech as part of an “axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”

In recent weeks, there has been an increase in diplomatic exchanges among the six nations involved in the talks. North Korean representatives have been in Beijing and Moscow, and the United States has consulted closely with the participants.

Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, said yesterday that the United States made a proposal to North Korea at the last round of talks in June and that Pyongyang is refusing to discuss it.

“We expect the North Koreans to come back to the table and respond to that and to negotiate, and that’s the deal,” he said after a speech to the Asia Society.

In Japan, a new dispute has raised questions about Tokyo’s participation in future talks. Japan’s legislature has formed a special committee to deal with the issue of Japanese nationals abducted in the past by North Korea and used for intelligence training.

North Korea’s government warned Japan yesterday that it will view any economic sanctions on North Korea as a “declaration of war.” Pyongyang also threatened to exclude Japan from the talks.

North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency reported Tuesday that it will not continue talks “for the mere form’s sake.”

“It is useless to hold talks … without producing any substantial results,” the agency stated. “As already made clear by [North Korea], it intends to follow with patience the course of policy-shaping by the second-term Bush administration.”

The crisis over North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program began in October 2002, when a North Korean government official told a visiting U.S. official that the communist government had a covert uranium-enrichment program.

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