N Korea unyielding as US reconsiders

DIPLOMACY: Washington said it is looking at options, even a promise not to attack, as it irons out exactly what kind of scenario it would like to see to avert a disaster


Thu, Aug 14, 2003 - Page 5

North Korea (DPRK), laying out tough terms ahead of six-way talks, warned the US yesterday against treating it like Iraq and forcing the communist state to abandon its nuclear program.

In a show of rigidity that analysts said represented North Korea's customary way of leveraging a weak hand, North Korea's Foreign Ministry revived Pyongyang's long-standing demand for a non-aggression treaty and diplomatic relations with Washington.

The treaty and diplomatic normalization were needed to demonstrate a "US switchover in its hostile policy" towards the reclusive communist state, the ministry said in a statement published by the North's official KCNA news agency.

"It is clear that as long as the US insists on its hostile policy toward the DPRK, the latter will not abandon its nuclear deterrent force," said the statement. DPRK are the initials for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

"It will be considered that the US has practically given up its hostile policy toward the DPRK when a non-aggression treaty with legal binding is concluded and diplomatic relations are established between the DPRK and the US," the ministry said.

The lengthy statement blaming Washington for the 10-month-old crisis also dismissed talk of a multi-nation inspection regime for its nuclear facilities as a US ruse to disarm North Korea.

"It is a mistake if the US attempts to force an `earlier inspection' upon the DPRK, putting it on a par with Iraq," it said, calling such inspections "impossible and unthinkable."

Nuclear talks are likely to begin in Beijing on Aug. 27. The talks will bring together the US, both Koreas, China, Russia and Japan.

Participating countries continued to fine-tune their approach to talks, with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) due in Seoul yesterday after visiting Japan, and envoys from South and North Korea holding separate meetings in Moscow.

Asked about DPRK demands, Li told reporters at Seoul's airport: "That's between the two countries directly involved to discuss between themselves."

Yesterday, Interfax news agency said Russia had proposed a multilateral security pact. "This document could be four-sided -- the United States, North Korea, Russia and China -- or six-sided with the inclusion of Japan and South Korea," it quoted an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official as saying.

Meanwhile in Washington, the Bush administration is considering some conciliatory steps toward North Korea, but is still determined to demand that Pyongyang either fully disclose its weapons or allow inspectors into the country, The New York Times reported yesterday.

Citing unnamed administration officials, the newspaper said possible concessions include some form of written assurance that the US has no intention of attacking North Korea and some relaxation of limits on activities by international institutions to help the North with its economic problems.

An administration official said the US might even be prepared to offer economic incentives, according to the report.

But the official added that economic benefits would come only after the dismantling of the nuclear program, the Times said.

"There are a lot of ideas being discussed," the paper quoted an unnamed Asian diplomat as saying. "The question is how they will be packaged, and in what sequence. The US clearly wants its concerns addressed at an early stage, while the North Koreans want their concerns addressed at an early stage."

As the Beijing meeting approaches, the Bush administration is reported once again to be divided over concessions to the North, The Times said.

There are also differences of view between Washington and its allies, Japan and South Korea.

A US official said Japan and the US take a harder line, while South Korea is inclined to accept the idea of "front-loading" some concessions in return for preliminary steps by the North toward nuclear disarmament, according to the report.