N. Korea rejects Bush's offer of aid, recognition

Leaders refuse to disarm but hope for new talks

January 16, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - North Korea firmly rejected President Bush's offer of aid and possible diplomatic recognition in exchange for nuclear disarmament with a vitriolic statement yesterday that called the president's remarks a deceptive drama intended to mislead world public opinion.

In a major shift, Bush on Tuesday had said he would consider a bold initiative to end the escalating stand-off with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program.

He said the initiative could include aid, energy assistance and possible diplomatic and security agreements. But the president was emphatic that none of this would occur until Pyongyang dismantled its nuclear weapons facilities and allowed inspectors to verify that.

Bush's remarks were his first suggesting that disarmament would bring North Korea tangible benefits. But the reaction indicated that North Korea's leaders were unimpressed.

"The U.S. loudmouthed supply of energy and food aid are like a painted cake in the sky as they are possible only after North Korea is totally disarmed," said the statement, issued early yesterday by the Korea Central News Agency.

Reaction in Washington was low-key. Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said only: "That's an unfortunate comment that North Korea has made." He added, "This is why Japan and China, South Korea, Russia and the United States view this matter as a serious concern."

Anti-American invective is standard fare for the news agency, but at the same time North Korea set dates yesterday for Cabinet-level talks with South Korea next week.

One Pyongyang strategy has been to drive a wedge between South Korea and its ally, the United States, which keeps 37,000 troops in the South.

Pyongyang Radio said yesterday that "if the North and South join forces and take a joint stand, we can protect the nations' dignity and safety against U.S. arrogance."

James Kelly, a U.S. assistant secretary of state, is in Beijing, where the Chinese, the North Koreans' neighbor and chief economic partner, are pushing to host talks between North Korea and the United States.

A Russian envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov, leaves today for Beijing and Pyongyang carrying Russian proposals to settle the dispute, the Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday.

In October, North Korea acknowledged it had restarted its nuclear program. Last week it withdrew from the global Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and said it would resume missile tests. The Bush administration had taken an unwavering line against negotiation of any kind until Tuesday, when Bush offered incentives for North Korea to disarm.

"We expect them not to develop nuclear weapons," Bush said, "and if they choose to do so ... then I will reconsider whether or not we will start the bold initiative I talked about."

The news agency statement yesterday said North Korea had examined Bush's statement and found no change in the American offers.

"What we heard from the U.S. side was simple words that the U.S. had nothing to say about the resumption of dialogue," the agency said.

It added that Pyongyang was ready to solve the nuclear issue through negotiations on condition that the United States recognize North Korea's sovereignty, assure it of nonaggression and not obstruct its economic development.

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