U.S. to confer with allies on North Korea sanctions

Saturday, April 26, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration said Friday it will confer with allies about possibly seeking U.N. sanctions against North Korea after a round of nuclear talks marked by brinkmanship on the part of the communist country.

In the past, North Korea has said that international sanctions would constitute a "declaration of war."

Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said the administration has taken no position on sanctions but will seek the opinion of other countries.

"North Korea has thumbed its nose not only at the region but at much of the world as a result of its actions, and therefore has been condemned by much of the world," he said.

He spoke hours after the conclusion of the third and final day of talks in Beijing involving the United States, North Korea and China on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

After a brief, informal meeting among the three, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly flew to Seoul to brief South Korean officials on the meetings. He planned to visit Japan today.

When the U.N. Security Council took up the North Korea issue two weeks ago, sanctions were not discussed. The Council expressed concern over North Korea's withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. A stronger statement failed to pass because of opposition from China and Russia.

No concessions

At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States will not make concessions to North Korea.

"We are not going to give a quid pro quo to get rid of a nuclear weapons program that never should have existed in the first place," he said.

Administration officials had said Thursday that North Korean delegate Ri Gun told Kelly that his country had nuclear weapons and would test, export or use them, depending on U.S. actions.

The officials added that North Korea also told the U.S. delegation that it had reprocessed spent nuclear fuel rods, a key step in the production of nuclear weapons. That claim is not backed up by U.S. intelligence.

Boucher refused to comment directly on the reported comments but said, "We're not going to allow ourselves to be intimidated or blackmailed by threats." He offered no response to a North Korean statement that Pyongyang had offered "a new bold proposal to clear up bilateral concerns." The Korean statement gave no details.

Months ago, the Bush administration promised its own bold initiative under which it would provide assistance to North Korea's stricken economy but only after Pyongyang eliminated its nuclear program.

Boucher said the administration will undertake a careful review of the outcome of the Beijing meeting before deciding on next steps.

Rather than rely on the on-the-spot English translation of Ri's official statement in Beijing, U.S. government Korean language experts will do a more studied translation from the original Korean to make sure there are no misunderstandings.

Boucher and other officials seemed pleased by China's role in the talks, noting that Beijing issued a pointed reminder that North Korea had assured South Korea in 1992 that it had no plans to acquire nuclear weapons.

Daniel Pinkston, of the Monterey Institute for International Studies, said North Korean belligerence reflects feelings of insecurity. "They believe they are under threat," he said. "They view the threat as coming from the United States."

He called President Bush's designation of North Korea as an "axis of evil" member a major mistake because it fed such anxieties and made the Koreans less receptive to opening negotiations.

Robert Einhorn, a former State Department official and North Korea expert, said Pyongyang's negotiators were on the wrong track.

"If the North Koreans thought hard to find an approach most likely to get the administration not to want to come back to the negotiating table, I think they've come up with it," Einhorn said.

Charles Pena, of the Cato Institute, said the United States should "disabuse itself of the notion that it can get North Korea to disarm."

To restore the military balance in the region, he recommended that Japan and South Korea consider starting their own nuclear weapons programs.

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