North Korean talks tough on second day of nuclear negotiations

Friday, April 25, 2003

BEIJING -- North Korea accused the United States of leading the region toward war Thursday in an apparent attempt by the communist nation to increase pressure on negotiators holding a second day of talks on its nuclear programs.

There was no indication whether any progress had come from the second day of meetings Thursday. The chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, declined to answer questions upon returning to his hotel in the afternoon, saying only that the sides "had talks."

Discussions were scheduled to end today. Kelly was to fly to Seoul the same day to meet with South Korean officials.

North Korea continued to try to ratchet up the pressure and is believed to want economic aid in exchange for concessions.

Its leaders are outraged over U.S. moves to cut off oil shipments because of its suspected nuclear weapons program, and fears it is next on Washington's list for military action.

"The situation on the Korean Peninsula is so tense that a war may break out any moment due to the U.S. moves," the North's KCNA news agency.

It said relations with the United States had hit "rock bottom" because President Bush named North Korea as part of an "axis of evil," along with Iran and Iraq.

KCNA said the war in Iraq had shown the only way for a country to protect itself was to have a strong military deterrent. Officials from Seoul and Washington say the swift U.S.-led victory in Iraq prompted North Korea to agree to the nuclear talks.

The North's Korea People's Army vowed to "put all people under arms and turn the whole country into a fortress" and urged its soldiers to become "human bombs and fighters ready to blow up themselves" to protect leader Kim Jong Il.

"If the U.S. imperialists and their followers intrude into even an inch of the inviolable sky, land and sea of the (North) ... the (army) will deal merciless deadly blows at the aggressors," North Korean Defense Minister Kim Il Chol was quoted as saying by KCNA.

Still, North Korea said it was ready to settle the dispute over its suspected nuclear weapons programs and that the "master key" for successful talks was for the United States to drop its hostile policy toward Pyongyang.

Late Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and Secretary of State Colin Powell talked by phone and agreed that the Beijing talks were beneficial, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The U.S. Embassy and Chinese Foreign Ministry said they had no details of Thursday's discussions. But ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said the talks were "conducive to mutual understanding and finding ways to resolve the North Korean nuclear question peacefully."

North Korea and China fought against the United States in the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended without a peace treaty.

North Korea and Washington have no formal relations and are still technically at war.

In a likely reference to North Korea's demand for a nonaggression treaty with Washington, KCNA said: "The U.S. should settle the talks from a sincere stand and strive to settle the essential issue."

Washington has refused to offer a formal treaty but says it would consider some sort of written assurance.

China, the North's ally and major aid donor, nevertheless says it doesn't want Pyongyang to acquire nuclear weapons and has appealed for a negotiated settlement to the crisis.

The talks are being led by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and Ri Gun, deputy director of American affairs for North Korea's Foreign Ministry. China's delegation is led by Fu Ying, director general of the Asian Affairs Department of its Foreign Ministry.

The United States hopes eventually to include Japan and South Korea in the talks. Kelly briefed South Korean and Japanese diplomats in Beijing following Wednesday's discussions, the U.S. Embassy said. He is scheduled to visit Seoul for meetings immediately after the Beijing talks.

Washington says the North revealed during a visit by Kelly to Pyongyang in October that it was trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 pledge. The North has disputed the U.S. claim.

The North likely wants aid for its economy, which has been crippled by the loss of Soviet subsidies and years of drought and mismanagement.

Since the latest nuclear tensions erupted, Pyongyang has become the first country to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and restarted a plutonium-producing reactor.

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