U.S. rejects N. Korea conditions for resumption of nuclear talks

Secretary of state says Pyongyang should raise concerns in negotiations

October 24, 2004|By William Neikirk | William Neikirk,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

TOYKO - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell rejected yesterday North Korea's conditions for resuming six-party talks over its nuclear program, saying that they would lead only to new conditions that would keep the negotiations stalled.

Powell told reporters that the Pyongyang government should bring its concerns to the six-nation bargaining table rather than try to negotiate directly with the United States over conditions such as providing compensation to North Korea or ending an alleged U.S. "hostile attitude."

North Korea said some of that alleged hostility is evident in multinational naval exercises designed to stop ships carrying dangerous nuclear material. A Washington-led naval drill will take place Tuesday in Tokyo Bay under the Proliferation and Security Initiative.

It would be the first such drill in northeast Asia, and John R. Bolton, undersecretary of state for non-proliferation affairs and a sharp critic of North Korea, will be watching the exercises aboard a Japanese Coast Guard patrol boat.

Powell decided to visit Asia to give the talks a boost and hopes to enlist the support of China, Japan and South Korea in applying more pressure on the North.

Beginning a five-day Asian trip, Powell told reporters traveling with him that North Korea would not get a better deal if it waited until after the U.S. election to decide whether to join the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia in the talks.

"They may be waiting for our election to be over, I don't know. I won't second-guess them, but I don't think they will see a change in the [six-party] format that was going to be used to solve this problem," he said.

Sen. John Kerry has called for direct negotiations between the United States and North Korea over its nuclear program. By some estimates, North Korea has six to eight nuclear weapons. Powell has said he believes Pyongyang has one or two.

The secretary said he was satisfied that China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are "fully committed" to the talks, which are aimed at creating a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula. "I think they are steady and steadfast," he said.

Powell is scheduled to travel to China and South Korea after his visit to Japan.

As for North Korea, he said, "they are very good at trying to get everything they want up front, in return for promises." To give in would lead only to more conditions, he said.

The secretary was responding to a statement issued by North Korea before his departure from Washington, setting out three conditions for returning to negotiations.

In complaining of the "hostile attitude," North Korea claimed harassment by joint naval exercises aimed at stopping ships suspected of carrying nuclear materials.

Powell said there was nothing hostile about the Proliferation and Security Initiative, in which industrialized nations stage joint naval exercises to help stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Pyongyang has complained that Japanese ships have blocked shipping lanes and harassed their ships.

But Powell said the anti-proliferation initiative "does not threaten North Korea. It does not threaten the sovereignty of North Korea or the welfare of North Korea. It protects the rest of the world."

In its list of conditions, North Korea also called for economic assistance - or reward, as Pyongyang calls it - having the United States help pay for such things as heavy fuel deliveries if an agreement is signed. The other condition was that South Korea's nuclear experiments should be discussed in advance, experiments that Powell called minor.

The secretary said he had not explored with allies a resolution passed by Congress - and signed by Bush - saying that any talks with North Korea should include human-rights violations.

The resolution bars U.S. economic aid to North Korea unless the country can prove it has made progress in human rights.

It permits the United States to spend at least $20 million a year until 2008 for humanitarian aid.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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