U.S. rejects North Korea's new conditions for progress in nuclear talks

North Korea has called for talks on a treaty to end the Korean War, as well as an end to sanctions against it. Pyongyang made the appeal as a U.S. envoy said North Korea needs to improve its human rights record.
By Blaine Harden
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TOKYO -- The Obama administration on Monday rejected new conditions set by North Korea for progress in stalled nuclear talks.

In a statement, the Pyongyang government said that, as a confidence-building measure, it wants a peace treaty with the United States formally ending the 1950-1953 Korean War and the removal of U.N. sanctions that are squeezing its anemic economy. It also said it will not return to stalled six-party talks on nuclear disarmament unless U.N. sanctions are lifted.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, en route to the Asia-Pacific region for a nine-day trip, rejected North Korea's new conditions.

"That is what they want, but that is not what we're offering," Clinton said.

Although North Korea says it might rejoin disarmament talks, it has also said repeatedly in the past year that it has no intention of giving up nuclear weapons, which make it a player on the international stage.

Other issues -- chief among them human rights -- also are likely to interfere with normal relations between North Korea and the United States. On Monday, President Obama's special envoy for human rights in North Korea called the country "one of the worst places in terms of human rights."

For more than half a century, North Korea has operated political prison camps where perceived enemies of the state have been worked to death, tortured, starved and executed, according to camp survivors, former guards and human rights groups.

"The situation is appalling," the envoy, Robert King, told reporters after meetings with the South Korean government. King said improved ties between the United States and Pyongyang "will have to involve greater respect for human rights by North Korea."

The South Korean government recently estimated that there are about 154,000 prisoners in six large camps. The camps can be seen clearly in satellite photographs.

But North Korea says the camps do not exist. Its diplomats "go nuts" when the subject of the camps is raised, according to a former State Department official.

Staff writer John Pomfret, traveling with Clinton, contributed to this report.

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