Wed, Feb 16, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Concessions for N Korea shelved

NO REWARD Saying N Korea shouldn't be rewarded for `causing difficulties,' US officials said aid to the regime would be axed and illegal activities would be monitored

AP , WASHINGTON

The US has ruled out economic concessions to woo North Korea back into negotiations to halt its nuclear weapons program and said it was keeping a close watch on illegal activities by the Pyongyang government.

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice continued consultations Monday with negotiating partners, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said all the partners agreed "the North Koreans should not be rewarded for causing difficulties in the reconvening of the talks."

At the same time, he said US law enforcement agencies were working with other governments to try to counter illicit international activities by North Korea.

The pressure tactic, he said, includes tracking narcotics and smuggling activities, counterfeiting and proliferation of weapons technology.

"We have been aware for some time of North Korea's illicit activities," he said. "They have been a concern to the United States and other nations for decades."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan declined, meanwhile, to say whether the US was consulting with its Asian friends to mount a quarantine against North Korea.

But, he said, "we have an obligation to help protect our allies. We have an obligation to protect our respective economies."

The latest ally to consult with Rice, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, asserted North Korea may be bluffing in claiming to have nuclear weapons.

He urged North Korea to resume negotiations "as a responsible member of the international community."

After meeting with Rice, the South Korean minister told reporters they had reconfirmed the importance of a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue through talks jointly with the US, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.

North Korea is demanding one-on-one negotiations with the US. It said it was suspending the six-party talks indefinitely and announced it had produced nuclear weapons.

The last round was held last June and ended with a decision to meet again in September. But there have been no further negotiations.

"We agreed to intensify our efforts among the parties concerned," Ban said. Rice made no statement.

South Korea and Japan have been inclined to try conciliation toward the Pyongyang regime, but the Bush administration is holding out for a decision to halt nuclear weapons production before Asian allies begin giving North Korea civilian electric power and other economic benefits.

As they sat on opposite sides of a working fireplace in Rice's State Department office, having their pictures taken, Ban remarked on Seoul's close relationship with the US. Similarly, Rice said the two sides have a "very, very strong friendship and alliance."

There was no hint of differences below the surface on how to approach North Korea.

With talks in suspension since last June, and North Korea now saying the break will last indefinitely, South Korea and Japan, which sends a delegation to Washington on Saturday, are hoping for agreement with the US on a productive way to proceed.

In Seoul earlier, Unification Minister Chung Dong-young noted North Korea has yet to conduct a nuclear test, unlike other nuclear powers such as India and Pakistan.

"I believe it is early for us to call the North a nuclear state," when it has not been independently confirmed, Chung said in a speech to parliament.

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