UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 27 -- North Korea said Monday that it will not resume talks on its nuclear weapons program until the Bush administration ends its "hostile policy" against Pyongyang and South Korea publishes complete details of its secret efforts to produce nuclear-weapons-grade fuel.
The new conditions, which were outlined by North Korea's vice foreign minister, Choe Su Hon, in a speech before the 191-member U.N. General Assembly, have diminished the prospects of talks aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff before the U.S. presidential election, according to diplomats. Three months ago, North Korea agreed to participate in a fourth round of six-party negotiations over the fate of its nuclear program with the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.
It remains unclear why Pyongyang is stalling. But the government has escalated its anti-American rhetoric since President Bush referred to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, as a "tyrant" last month at a campaign rally in Wisconsin. The North Korean foreign ministry responded by calling Bush a "fascist tyrant," a "man killer" and "human trash."
Choe, meanwhile, warned Monday that the "danger of war is snowballing" in the Korean Peninsula as a result of the Bush administration's efforts to "isolate" Pyongyang. "The ever intensifying U.S. hostile policy and the clandestine nuclear-related experiments recently revealed in South Korea are constituting big stumbling blocks to the continuation of the talks," Choe told U.N. delegates. "The serious situation . . . makes us unable to participate in the talks aimed at discussing the nuclear weapon program."
The North Korean's refusal to continue talks represents a setback for the Bush administration, which is pursuing resumption of negotiations before the Nov. 2 election to demonstrate its commitment to end the crisis diplomatically.
"We certainly want to see another round take place," said State Department spokesman Adam Ereli. "We hope that the North Koreans will realize that the sooner they return to the six-party format and begin discussions, the sooner we'll be able to help them deal with their very serious economic problems. We are continuing to work with the other parties to the six-party talks to move the process forward, and it's not something we're giving up on."
The latest nuclear crisis in North Korea began in 2002, when a senior North Korean official told visiting U.S. diplomats that the country had a program to enrich uranium. The two sides agreed to participate in the six-party talks to resolve the matter diplomatically. The group, which first met in August 2002, has held three meetings.
Choe defended his government's decision to develop nuclear weapons, citing the Bush administration's embrace of a policy of preemptive action against nuclear weapons proliferators and Bush's designation of North Korea, along with Iran and the former regime in Iraq, as members of an "axis of evil."
He said that North Korea is willing to dismantle its nuclear weapons program as part of a step-by-step agreement -- which Choe dubbed "reward for freeze" -- that would require compensation for billions of dollars in losses Pyongyang maintains it incurred in developing its nuclear program.
"Our demand is simple and plain," he said in a statement read to reporters after the speech. "It is for the U.S. to commit itself to non-aggression guarantee and normalize relations with the DPRK [the Democratic People's Republic of Korea] and refrain from impeding the economic transactions between the DPRK and other countries. Our demand is also for the U.S. to make due compensation for the freeze and dismantlement of nuclear facilities that we have built with huge investment, tightening our belts."
The Bush administration has said that it is prepared to consider easing sanctions on Pyongyang and offering security assurances once it can verify that the government is serious about scrapping its nuclear program.
But the administration maintains that it is unwilling to pay Pyongyang to halt its program, citing its failure to abide by an agreement with the Clinton administration to forgo its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for Western funding for two light-water nuclear reactors, which cannot be easily converted to produce weapons-grade fuel.