North Korea Not Interested in Returning to Nuclear Talks

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Almost a year after the last round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions, Pyongyang looks no closer to returning to the table or to agreeing to dismantle its weapons programs.

On Tuesday, the government, speaking through an official newspaper, said that possessing nuclear weapons was "the best option to safeguard our sovereignty and dignity from the escalating U.S. nuclear maneuver to crush [North Korea]."

The Minju Joson paper accused the U.S. of responsibility for the tension over the nuclear programs because of its hostility towards the North, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Three rounds of talks involving the U.S., North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia produced little more than agreements each time to meet again, and even that modest achievement failed to materialize after the third round, last June.

The parties were scheduled to meet again in September, but North Korea demurred, prompting analysts to surmise Kim Jong-il was holding out until after the U.S. presidential election, in the hope President Bush would be defeated.

For months the U.S. and other dialogue partners have been pressing for a long-delayed fourth round, but North Korea has refused, citing continued U.S. "hostility."

Last February it declared itself a nuclear power - the claim has yet to be proven with a weapons test - and earlier this month announced that it had removed 8,000 used fuel rods from a reactor, a step in the process of securing more weapons-grade plutonium.

On May 13, U.S. officials met with North Korean diplomats at the U.N., raising hopes once again that a breakthrough may be possible.

Administration figures have on several recent occasions repeated the phrase that the U.S. considers the North Korea a "sovereign" state - a response to Pyongyang's accusations that America is bent on regime change.

But they have also raised the possibility that the U.S. may at some point opt to refer North Korea to the U.N. Security Council for its violations of international nuclear agreements.

North Korea said Sunday it would respond at the "appropriate time" to the U.S. attempts to restart the talks, but also said it was trying to clarify what it called conflicting signals from the Bush administration.

On Tuesday, Yonhap reported that South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun would meet with Bush in Washington next month, to discuss ways of bringing the North back to the talks. The U.S. has yet to announce any meeting.

The Roh government has walked a fine line between supporting its traditional military ally, the U.S., and trying to improve ties with North Korea and providing economic aid to the impoverished country.

Washington's point man in the crisis was quoted as saying that, almost a year since the last six-party talks, "at present we have a situation where North Korea does not seem to be interested [in talking]."

"We have a number of options," Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said in Brussels Monday. "One option we do not have is to walk away."

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow