BEIJING: North Korea said yesterday it was willing to discuss its nuclear programme with the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), but insisted a non-aggression pact was the only way to defuse the crisis.
The reclusive communist state’s ambassador to China, Choe Jin-su, told reporters that North’s decision to reactivate its nuclear programme was an act of self-defence and denounced Washington as the aggressor.
“We are forced to take self-defence measures against this threat for national dignity and the right to existence,” he said.
“Only when both teams sit together can there be a dialogue, and without dialogue, no one can talk about a peaceful solution,” he said, criticising Washington for labelling North Korea as part of an “axis of evil” and accusing US of aiming missiles at it.
“If the US legally assures us of security by concluding a non-aggression treaty, the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula will be settled,” he added.
Choe said talks with Washington about how to safeguard the framework governing its nuclear programme had been broken off.
“This issue should be negotiated in the future. If time permits, we will discuss with the IAEA,” he said.
Washington, which announced in October that the North had admitted to a secret nuclear weapons programme, has said it will not reward bad behaviour by holding talks with the North.
North Korea set off alarm bells around the world by starting to reactivate a nuclear complex, mothballed under a 1994 deal with Washington but capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
Calling for direct talks with Washington and a non-aggression pact, it expelled UN inspectors monitoring the complex and said it would no longer abide by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Diplomatic efforts to bring the North into line gathered pace yesterday with South Korea, which held talks with China on Thursday, sending an envoy to Russia for weekend talks.
“We will ask strongly for the Russian government to take an active role in contacts with North Korea to (persuade it to) come to the table for negotiations that will secure a peaceful resolution,” an official at the South Korean embassy in Moscow said.
The weekend talks in Moscow are a prelude to a meeting in Washington on Monday and Tuesday at which the United States, South Korea and Japan will co-ordinate strategy before a visit to East Asia by US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly.
President George Bush, speaking at his ranch in Texas, said the United States was in touch with friends and allies over the crisis – but he also singled out the communist state’s leader for personal criticism.
Bush, who has lumped North Korea, Iraq and Iran into an “axis of evil”, criticised the North’s secretive leader, Kim Jong-il.
“One of the reasons why the people are starving is because the leader of North Korea hasn’t seen to it that their economy is strong or that they be fed,” Bush said, adding that US was donating food to the impoverished nation.
China, which fought alongside the North in the 1950-53 Korean War, has so far balanced a call for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula with support for dialogue between the United States and North Korea to end the standoff.
Russia is the only member of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations to enjoy good relations with both halves of the divided Korean peninsula.
It initially denounced a US decision to cut oil supplies to North Korea, accusing Washington of provoking the crisis. On Monday, it toughened its language against the North, saying it regretted Pyongyang’s decision to resume its nuclear activities. – Reuters
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