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U.S.: Washington Hosts Talks On North Korea As IAEA Condemns Pyongyang

By Jeffrey Donovan/Robert McMahon

As South Korea, Japan, and the United States meet for a second day of talks on ending the Korean nuclear standoff, U.S. President George W. Bush has repeated that Pyongyang has nothing to fear from the United States. Meanwhile, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog is threatening to take the matter to the Security Council if North Korea does not allow UN weapons inspectors to return.

Washington, 7 January 2003 (RFE/RL) -- South Korean and Japanese officials are in Washington today for a second day of high-level talks with U.S. diplomats on how to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear-weapons program.

Pyongyang recently restarted a banned nuclear reactor that experts say is capable of producing the material to make several nuclear weapons by summer. U.S. officials say they believe North Korea already has one or two small nuclear bombs. And last fall, it admitted to pursuing a separate program to enrich uranium for nuclear arms in violation of international agreements.

North Korea says it is forced to pursue nuclear arms to defend against the U.S. policy of possible preemptive strikes against "rogue states," such as itself, Iraq, or Iran, which together form what U.S. President George W. Bush has dubbed an "axis of evil."

As a first step to resolving the crisis, North Korea is demanding direct talks and a nonaggression agreement with the United States, which has rejected both of these demands. Washington says the issue is not U.S. aggression but North Korean noncompliance with United Nations agreements on nuclear arms.

Bush repeated that message yesterday after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly held separate talks with South Korea's deputy foreign minister and Japan's top diplomat for Asian and Oceania affairs.

None of them publicly commented on the talks, but a statement is expected today after they meet. Bush, however, told reporters that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has nothing to fear from the United States and must simply comply with the international nuclear agreements his country has signed. "I went to Korea and clearly said that the United States has no intention of invading North Korea. I said that right there in South Korea, in Kim Jong-Il's neighborhood. I spoke clearly, as I said, and said, 'We won't invade you.' And I repeat that: We have no intention of invading North Korea," Bush said.

In Washington, South Korea reportedly is asking the United States to give Pyongyang security assurances and a vow to resume supplies of free oil. In return, the North would dismantle two nuclear programs that are in violation of international agreements.

Washington says it has no intention of reaching a new deal to replace the 1994 Agreed Framework, which shut down the North Korean nuclear complex at Pyongyang under UN supervision in exchange for the free oil and safe light-water nuclear-power plants.

However, analyst Jon Wolfstahl of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Bush's comments today can be interpreted as a response to Seoul's requests. "I think it is tied to what the South Koreans are asking for. What the North Koreans have been publicly calling for in a nonaggression pact is something that the president is trying to dismiss and take off the table by simply saying, 'We have no intention of attacking,'" Wolfstahl said.

While the diplomatic push was under way in the U.S. capital, the governing board of the international community's nuclear watchdog agency yesterday in Vienna adopted a resolution calling for North Korea to allow the return of its weapons inspectors.

The resolution approved by the 35-member governing board deplores North Korea's recent acts to expel inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, and remove surveillance equipment from the nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

The IAEA is now unable, the resolution says, to verify that there has been no diversion of nuclear material in North Korea, as required by the safeguards agreement between the agency and Pyongyang.

The agency's policy-making board called on North Korea to allow the resumption of verification measures and cooperate with the IAEA to clarify aspects of its reported uranium-enrichment program.

The director-general of the IAEA, Mohammad el-Baradei, told reporters afterward that North Korea must respond to the resolution within weeks. He said the board is giving North Korea one last opportunity to come into full compliance with its obligations. Further talks, he said, can only come after it has signaled its compliance. "The international community is not ready to negotiate under blackmail or under threat. North Korea has first to fulfill its international obligations. Once they've fulfilled their international obligations, particularly with regard to the safeguard agreement they are a party to, then there is light at the end of the tunnel for them," el-Baradei said.

El-Baradei said in the event of continuing noncompliance, the IAEA would refer the matter to the UN Security Council, which is considered a last resort. The council could then decide to authorize punitive sanctions or other actions against the North Korean regime.

The Security Council president for January, French Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, told reporters yesterday that council members did not discuss the issue in their meeting with new members earlier in the day.

The council has two scheduled meetings on Iraq weapons inspections this month with chief inspector Hans Blix. So far, the French ambassador said, the Security Council it is not seized by the issue of North Korean nuclear inspections.

El-Baradei stressed in his comments to reporters that the IAEA considers the North Korean crisis to be much more than a dispute between Washington and Pyongyang. "The problem is of an international dimension. It's a problem of violating international obligations with regard to [North] Korea's nonproliferation obligations. I think the [IAEA] board was very clear that this is not a bilateral issue -- it's a multilateral issue with a dimension that goes beyond any bilateral relationship between the U.S. and North Korea," el-Baradei said.

The IAEA chief acknowledged the frequent comparisons made between the situations in Iraq and North Korea. He said Iraq is under greater pressure by the Security Council at the moment because Iraqi disarmament follows its initiation of a war with a neighboring state.