North Korea said yesterday it still was ready for six-way talks to resolve a crisis over its nuclear ambitions but it would have no dialogue with US Undersecretary of State John Bolton after his sharp criticism of the country and its leader.
Bolton, widely seen as "hawkish" on North Korea, earlier this week referred to life there as a "hellish nightmare," where its leader Kim Jong-il lived like royalty while keeping hundreds of thousands of his people in prison camps and millions more mired in poverty.
Analysts said North Korea's decision not to pull out of six-way talks, in spite of the scathing US criticism, showed that the reclusive country had few options left.
"If the six-way talks don't take place, then what's left are a tougher U.S. stance and the UN Security Council," said Yu Suk-ryul, a North Korea expert at the South Korea's Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.
Pyongyang said on Saturday that any move by the US to bring the crisis to the UN Security Council would derail the planned talks and could lead to war.
North Korea and the US said on Friday they had agreed to hold six-way talks on the nuclear standoff. China, Japan, Russia and South Korea will also attend the sessions.
Pyongyang previously insisted on bilateral talks with the US. Washington had rejected that option, demanding North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons programs first.
In a related development, a Japanese newspaper reported yesterday that the US and Japan were considering forming a multinational nuclear inspection team to ensure the North abandons its nuclear weapons programs completely.
Pyongyang however signaled its continued desire for talks in a report by the official KCNA news agency.
"There is no change in our stand on holding the six-party talks including the bilateral talks between the DPRK and the US for the peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula," KCNA quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
DPRK is an acronym for North Korea.
The latest KCNA report spoke of Bolton's "political vulgarity and psychopathological condition" and said North Korea would not deal with him or consider him an official of the US administration.
Bolton has called for the UN to have its Security Council take "appropriate and timely action" to send a signal to the world it took the North Korean crisis seriously.
The prospect of fresh talks comes after months of tension following Washington's announcement last October that Pyongyang had admitted to pursuing a covert nuclear weapons programme.
Yu said Pyongyang appeared to be optimistic about one-on-one meetings with US officials during the six-way talks.
In Japan, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said the inspection team would likely consist of experts mainly from the US, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
No government officials were immediately available to comment on the report, which quoted US and Japanese government sources.
The planned inspection team would work independently of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog, Yomiuri said.
The multinational group of experts would inspect not only the Yongbyon nuclear complex but also undeclared plutonium and uranium-enrichment facilities as well as facilities built to make and test detonators for nuclear weapons, Yomiuri said in a lead article.