Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - North Korea Friday offered to negotiate a non-aggression treaty with the U.S., but rejected Washington's demands that it immediately scrap its recently admitted nuclear weapons program.
The North would be prepared to strike a deal on three conditions, the Stalinist state's foreign ministry said in a statement released by its official news agency.
The U.S. would have to give a legal assurance of non-aggression, including an undertaking not to use nuclear weapons against North Korea.
Washington would also have to recognize North Korea's sovereignty and not take steps that interfered with its economic development, it said.
It was Pyongyang's most direct response yet to the crisis precipitated by its recent acknowledgement that it was enriching uranium for nuclear weapons, in violation of several international treaties, including a key agreement reached with the U.S. in Geneva in 1994.
That admission, announced last week by the State Department, has put in doubt the future of the 1994 "Agreed Framework," under which North Korea undertook to freeze attempts to secure a nuclear weapons capability.
In return, the U.S. agreed to supply fuel to the cash-strapped North, and together with Japan and South Korea, to finance new power-generating nuclear reactors whose by-products could not be used in the manufacturing of weapons.
Earlier this week Pyongyang offered to resolve the issue through "dialogue," but senior U.S. officials stressed that the North was expected to undertake unequivocally to end its clandestine program and allow independent verification that it has done so.
In its statement, the foreign ministry said the demand that North Korea "put down its arms" ahead of negotiations was "abnormal logic."
"How can the DPRK [North Korea] counter any attack with empty hands? Their assertion is little short of demanding the DPRK yield to pressure, which means death."
The statement did not specifically confirm that North Korea had a nuclear weapons program, but defended its right to have one.
It said because the U.S. threatened it with nuclear weapons and because President Bush had listed the country as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq, "nobody would be so naive as to sit idle."
North Korea was "entitled to possess not only nuclear weapon but any type of weapon more powerful than that so as to defend its sovereignty and right to existence from the ever-growing nuclear threat by the US."
In early reaction to Friday's statement, South Korea's foreign ministry reiterated that the North should promptly tackle the nuclear weapons issue.
"Our government is maintaining a stance that it cannot tolerate North Korea's nuclear program, and will discuss the issue closely with the United States and Japan to settle it via a peaceful means," a spokesman said.
U.S. version questioned
North Korea's admission came during a meeting between senior officials in Pyongyang and U.S. envoy James Kelly, early this month.
According to the State Department's account of the meeting, Kelly had challenged his hosts with intelligence information about the uranium-enrichment program, and they had acknowledged that it did exist.
The North Koreans had then said that "they considered the Agreed Framework nullified," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in an Oct. 16 statement.
Secretary of State Colin Powell last weekend cited this point when he indicated that the agreement was therefore effectively dead.
This week, however, a senior South Korean government official suggested after talks with counterparts in the North that Kelly had misunderstood or even distorted the message from Pyongyang.
"[The U.S.] said North Korea announced the Agreed Framework was nullified, but I think the [American] statement came out with its head and tail cut off," a Seoul daily quoted Unification Minster Jeong Se-hyun as saying in a radio interview.
Then a senior aide to President Kim Dae-jung suggested that Washington was possibly trying to derail attempts by South Korea and Japan to seek rapprochement with North Korea.
The remarks led to a flurry of media activity Thursday, but the presidency later issued a statement saying there was no suggestion that the U.S. had exaggerated the nuclear issue.
South Korea and the U.S. shared the same intelligence and assessment of the situation, it said.
The conservative Chosun Ilbo daily took Jeong to task for his comments, saying it was "frustrating and pathetic" to see the minister acting like a public relations spokesman for Pyongyang.
The key issue at stake was that North Korea had broken agreements by pursuing the development of nuclear weapons, and that is what Seoul should be taking the North to task about.
The editorial decried the approach it said was taken by the ruling party and others in South Korea - "that we shouldn't take issue with the North no matter what it may try, and that we should be as accommodating as possible."
Some Korean analysts have argued that Kim's "sunshine" policy of reconciliation with the North is seen as so important, that many in his government are unwilling to challenge violations when they occur.
See earlier story:
N. Korea Nuclear Weapons Admission Resonates In Region (17 Oct. 2002)
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