North Korea offers to get rid of nuclear weapons, end sales

U.S. security guarantee, economic aid demanded

April 29, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - North Korea has offered to scrap its nuclear weapons, its missile sales abroad and its testing of long-range rockets - but only for a steep price, the Bush administration said yesterday.

Adopting a somewhat softer tone toward North Korea, a State Department official said it was "noteworthy" that Pyongyang was willing to put its nuclear-weapons and missile programs "on the table." North Korea's overall proposal is unacceptable, the official said, but it might form the basis for further negotiations.

"It's not an airplane that's going to fly, but it may have interesting parts," the official said.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters that the North Koreans "did put forward a plan that would ultimately deal with their nuclear capability and their missile activities."

Powell added, "They, of course, expect something considerable in return."

Officials declined to detail all of North Korea's demands. But they were understood to include a U.S. security guarantee for Pyongyang; substantial economic aid, including access to international financial institutions and investment; and full diplomatic relations with the United States.

Pyongyang's plan

Richard Boucher, the State Department spokesman, said the North Koreans "might get rid of all their nuclear programs" and also "stop their missile exports." Officials said Pyongyang also offered a moratorium on further testing of long-range missiles, which have been a source of U.S. concern because they might eventually target the U.S. mainland.

North Korea's offer to negotiate an end to its nuclear-weapons program and to sharply curtail its missile development was made last week in Beijing during talks involving it, the United States and China.

The United States disclosed Pyongyang's offer yesterday after Chinese officials briefed Western diplomats about it.

Initial reports from last week's meeting had focused on the more threatening parts of North Korean statements to U.S. negotiators, which served to deepen the skepticism of administration hard-liners about any talks with North Korea.

At the meeting, North Korea acknowledged for the first time that it possesses nuclear weapons and said it had begun to reprocess nuclear-weapons fuel, which would allow it to build a nuclear arsenal and export either weapons or fuel to other rogue states or terrorists.

Pyongyang also threatened to demonstrate in some way that it had nuclear weapons, a threat that was interpreted as signaling a possible test of such a weapon.

`Games of blackmail'

Those statements prompted President Bush to declare that North Korea was engaged in "the same old games of blackmail" and had embarrassed China, which played a key role in brokering the three-way talks.

Sean McCormack, a White House spokesman, said last night that the president's remarks "are just as applicable today." But he added that "we're obviously getting more details" about last week's talks.

McCormack said the administration had not decided how to respond to the North Korean proposals. "Once we have a chance to consult among ourselves and with our friends and allies, we will let North Korea know," he said.

Bush's guiding principles for the negotiations, McCormack said, are that "we seek a peaceful, diplomatic solution" involving the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program "in an irreversible, verifiable way."

The president is also not "taking any options off the table," he said, referring to the possibility of military action as a last resort.

The State Department official said that in its current form, North Korea's offer was unacceptable because it would require the United States and its allies "to pay again for an agreement that they violated."

He referred to the 1994 "framework" accords that froze North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for supplies of fuel oil and an agreement to supply North Korea with a light-water reactor.

This time, U.S. officials want any agreement to ensure that North Korea cannot resume its nuclear-weapons program. The administration has also ruled out a nonaggression "pact" with North Korea while saying it would supply a document establishing that the United States bears no "hostile intent."

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