In Shift, N. Korea Criticizes Obama Administration as ‘Unchanged' From Bush Era

By Blaine Harden
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, May 9, 2009

TOKYO, May 8 -- President Obama and his predecessor George W. Bush already have at least this much in common: North Korea's suspicious and reclusive leaders don't like them.

When Obama came into office, North Korean officials said they saw an end to what they called the "regime change" policies of the Bush years and an opportunity for warmer relations with the United States. As a candidate, Obama said he would be willing to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, if it would help persuade the North to give up nuclear weapons.

Kim's government, though, appears to have taken offense at the Obama administration for criticizing its launch of a long-range missile last month and for joining other members of the U.N. Security Council in demanding a halt to further launches. North Korea weighed in this week with a highly negative assessment of Obama's first 100 days (plus a week), judging the new administration as "hostile" and "unchanged" from the Bush era.

"The U.S. is a rogue and gangster of the world community," said a commentary in the state-controlled newspaper, Minju Joson. "Though the present U.S. administration put up the signboard of 'change' and 'multilateral cooperation diplomacy,' it is, in essence, pursuing a unilateral policy little different from that of the Bush administration."

In recent days, North Korea has threatened to conduct a second nuclear test and to launch more missiles unless the Security Council apologizes for criticizing its April launch.

Kim's government stunned the world in 2006 with the test of a small nuclear device, which goaded the Bush administration into direct negotiations with Pyongyang, even though Bush had described North Korea, Iraq and Iran as an "axis of evil."

Experts estimate that North Korea has enough plutonium to make at least a half-dozen more bombs. South Korea's largest newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, reported this week that "brisk" activity had been detected at North Korea's nuclear test site. It quoted an unnamed South Korean government source as saying: "We think the North is ready to conduct a test in the near future, if it wants to."

While Obama criticized the North's missile launch as a "provocation," his administration has sought to keep the door open for negotiations. The State Department's envoy to North Korea, Stephen W. Bosworth, who is traveling this week in East Asia, emphasized an eagerness to talk.

Arriving in Seoul for meetings Friday, he declined to respond to the North's recent criticism of the United States. "I am not going to react to every statement coming out of North Korea," he said. "I am here to have talks with the South Korean government."

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