North Korea lashed out at President Bush yesterday for comments he made about the country's leader, Kim Jong Il, at a news conference Thursday, asserting that the North Korean nuclear impasse will never be resolved while Bush remains in office.
Bush is "a half-baked man in terms of morality and a philistine whom we can never deal with," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. The statement described Bush as the "world's dictator," who as president had "turned the world into a sea of blood."
North Korea declared in February that it had produced nuclear weapons and refused to return to six-nation disarmament talks. Yesterday's statement appears to signal the end of that diplomatic process, heightening the stakes in the impasse. The Bush administration has warned Asian allies in the past week that satellite images suggest North Korea is preparing its first underground nuclear test.
"We can no longer tolerate and wait for a shift in the [U.S.] policy," the North Korean statement concluded. "Quite just is the path chosen by us, and we will proceed straight and square along that path."
The Bush administration has engaged in an intensive effort to persuade North Korea to return to the talks, with a senior envoy shuttling among Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul last week. Bush took State Department officials and foreign diplomats by surprise with unusually strong language at the televised news conference, calling Kim a "tyrant" and a "dangerous person" who ran "concentration camps."
Kim is considered almost a deity in his country, and the North Korean statement said it could not ignore such "slandering and cursing remarks." The statement noted that "no one can expect to hear reasonable words from Bush, once a cowboy at a ranch in Texas. His remarks often stun audiences as they reveal his utter ignorance."
Bush had never made such cutting remarks about Kim in such a high-profile setting, though he occasionally referred to Kim as a tyrant while on the campaign trail last year. He was quoted in "Bush at War," by Washington Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward, as saying he loathed Kim because "he is starving his people."
Administration officials have declined to explain the president's remarks. "The president said what he had to say about Kim Jong Il and his regime, plain and simple in his plain-spoken way," one official said.
Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state who is attempting to lure Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, reported little progress Friday at the conclusion of his tour of Asian capitals. "We are still in a situation where one of the parties is refusing to come to the table, and that, of course, is North Korea," he said in Seoul, adding that a nuclear test "would be truly troubling for the talks."
Hill declined to discuss other options if North Korea does not return, saying it would undermine the diplomacy. U.S. officials are considering a number of ideas, including increasing pressure through a tightened blockage of North Korea's illicit activities and bringing the matter to the U.N. Security Council.
But some partners in the talks, especially China and South Korea, have balked at tougher measures. Rather than isolating Pyongyang, China has increased trade with North Korea by about 20 percent in the past year. North Korea appears to be gambling that divisions among the United States and its allies will eventually yield to acceptance of its status as a nuclear power.
Last week, the top military intelligence official told Congress that it was unlikely Pyongyang would ever give up its nuclear weapons because the arms gave it leverage in its relations with other nations. "Our assessment has been that it's unlikely that they would negotiate away completely that capability or associated ambiguities because of their concerns about changing world events, regional dynamics and so forth," said Vice Adm. Lowell E. Jacoby, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
U.S. intelligence analysts believe North Korea has harvested enough plutonium for about nine weapons. North Korea's nuclear facility at Yongbyon was shut down last month, indicating officials planned to extract more plutonium from the fuel rods.