Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - President Bush Tuesday rejected a North Korean proposal to freeze its nuclear program if the U.S. removes the Stalinist country from its list of terror-sponsors and provides fuel aid.
"The goal of the United States is not for a freeze of the nuclear program," Bush said at the White House. "The goal is to dismantle a nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way."
The president was speaking alongside visiting Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, and he said the two had spent much time discussing the North Korean crisis, triggered last year by its admission that it was pursuing nuclear weapons programs.
China is trying to arrange a second round of six-party talks aimed at resolving the standoff, after a first meeting in Beijing last August ended inconclusively.
"We will continue to work with China and the other countries involved to resolve this issue peacefully," said Bush, referring also to the other three parties making up the six - South Korea, Japan and Russia.
North Korea, which up to now has been demanding a non-aggression pact from the U.S., made the latest proposal through its official Korean Central News Agency.
"As the first step when we freeze our nuclear activity, the United Sates on its part must take reciprocal steps," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Those steps included removal from the terrorism list, resumption of suspended U.S. fuel shipments, and a lifting of "political, economic and military sanctions" against Pyongyang.
The spokesman tied agreement on those steps to resumption of the six-way talks.
Reiterating Washington's stance, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday the U.S. had said repeatedly that "we are not going to reward North Korea for its violations of its international commitments, nor are we going to provide rewards to achieve their compliance with obligations they've already taken on and subsequently violated."
Boucher said North Korea was the only party among the six which was trying to set preconditions for further talks.
He repeated Bush's recent offer of documented, multilateral security assurances for North Korea.
Pyongyang's demand for a resumption of fuel aid comes 13 months after the U.S. and its partners decided to stop the shipments, because of North Korean violations of a 1994 deal called the Agreed Framework.
Under that agreement, North Korea undertook to freeze its nuclear program, with the U.N. nuclear watchdog monitoring the freeze. In return, Japan and South Korea promised to finance most of the cost of two light-water nuclear reactors whose by-products cannot easily be used to manufacture nuclear weapons. The U.S. agreed to supply 500,000 tons of heavy fuel annually until the new, safe reactors were on line.
The other issue raised by Pyongyang, its listing as a terror-sponsor, has been a sore point for many years.
North Korea was put onto the blacklist in 1988, after agents from the North bombed a South Korean airliner the previous year, killing 115 people.
The State Department's most recent global terrorism report says Pyongyang also continues to provide safe haven to Japanese terrorists involved in the 1970s hijacking of a Japanese Airlines flight to North Korea.
It says North Korea had also sold weapons to several terrorist groups, and continues to sell ballistic missile technology to other countries on the terrorism list.
The other six states on the blacklist, and thus subject to U.S. economic sanctions, are Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan and Cuba.
Removal from the list could also enable the cash-strapped regime to access aid from international financial institutions.
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