Thu, Oct 23, 2003 - Page 5 News List

North Korea bristles at US offer

AP , SEOUL

North Korea has rejected US President George W. Bush's proposal to give it multi-nation security assurances if it agrees to scrap its nuclear weapons program, calling the offer laughable and "not worth considering."

Earlier this week, Bush put forward a plan in which the US and four other nations would give North Korea written assurances it won't be attacked if it promises to dismantle its nuclear program.

North Korea, in a radio broadcast late Tuesday, reiterated that it would settle for nothing less than a formal nonaggression treaty that would legally bind the US not to launch a pre-emptive strike against it. Bush ruled out such a treaty, and instead hopes to craft a deal that would reassure North Korea about its security and bring it back to negotiations -- but without ruling out possible US military options when things went sour.

"It is a laughing matter and is not worth considering," the state North Korean Central Broadcasting Station said in a dispatch monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"We have demanded that the United States drop its hostile policy toward the [North] and sign a bilateral nonaggression treaty with us. We have not demanded some kind of security guarantee."

Bush made his proposal at a summit of APEC leaders in Bangkok which was dominated by security issues including North Korea's nuclear threat. It would commit the US, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea to a no-invasion pledge.

Washington said that issues, such as when to offer a security pledge and exactly what North Korea would have to do beforehand, were still being debated.

North Korea fired at least one short-range missile off its east coast on Monday, rattling the gathering of Pacific Rim leaders and giving urgency to the yearlong nuclear crisis.

Bush's overture was a subtle yet significant shift in Washington's approach. The US had earlier insisted that North Korea created the nuclear crisis and must move first to end it. Pyongyang paid no heed and began taking steps that could give the country several more nuclear bombs in addition to the one or two it already is believed to possess.

Earlier this month, North Korea announced it completed reprocessing its stash of 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods and began using plutonium extracted from them to build more atomic bombs. Last week, it indicated that it might test a bomb.

Pyongyang's main state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said Tuesday the August talks "clearly proved the US true intention to totally disarm and destroy" North Korea.

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