Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Saturday that the United States would not provide "up-front" benefits to North Korea if it agreed to dismantle its nuclear programs, rejecting a key condition laid out by the North Korean government Friday for its return to six-nation negotiations on its weapons programs.
North Korea, which had refused to attend a planned session of the talks in September, said it would consider rejoining the negotiations if the United States was prepared to contribute to a compensation package in return for North Korea's agreement to freeze its nuclear programs. The government in Pyongyang also reiterated its previous demands that the Bush administration drop what North Korea calls a hostile policy and accept its proposal to discuss South Korea's recently disclosed -- and unauthorized -- tests with nuclear materials.
North Korea's insistence that the United States join in providing up-front compensation appeared to be aimed at driving a wedge between the United States and its four allies in the talks -- Japan, South Korea, China and Russia. Japan and South Korea have offered to provide North Korea with fuel oil if it commits to ending its programs, and the Bush administration has been under pressure to provide some symbolic contribution, such as paying administrative expenses. The United States has maintained that it would provide benefits, such as a security guarantee, only after North Korea discloses and allows the verification of the full extent of its programs.
Powell, arriving in Tokyo on the first leg of a three-day tour of East Asia to discuss the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions, noted to reporters traveling with him that South Korea and Japan have offered to immediately assist North Korea. But he said the United States would not agree to such conditions.
"President Bush is committed to assisting the Korean people to a better life and to help the Korean people to deal with problems of food sufficiency, energy," Powell said. "But we can't start putting things up front on the table, from our perspective, because we do not think that is the way to ultimately achieve our mutual objective, which is complete removal of a nuclear weapons program and all of its parts from North Korea."
Powell added that North Korea should not be setting conditions for returning to the talks. "Any outstanding issues that are holding up progress should be dealt with in the context of the discussions, not press statements or rhetoric going back and forth," he said.
North Korea has long insisted that the United States has a hostile policy toward it. A key goal of Powell's tour through Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul is to emphasize that Bush, who once labeled North Korea part of an "axis of evil," has no plans to invade the country and has no hostile intent.
But that message has been complicated by the fact that the United States will join Japan and other countries in a naval exercise next week in Japan's Sagami Bay. The exercise is aimed at stemming weapons proliferation.
As Powell departs Tokyo on Sunday, Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, the driving force behind the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), will arrive to observe the exercise. Bolton, considered one of the administration's hard-liners on North Korea policy, has been labeled "human scum" and a "bloodsucker" by North Korea for his tough speeches about the country.
In its statement Friday, Pyongyang denounced the exercise, saying "the U.S. is becoming evermore undisguised in its hostile acts as evidenced by PSI exercises staged to blockade and stifle" North Korea.
Powell insisted that the exercise, the first held in Asia, "is not a hostile act toward North Korea." He said there is "nothing wrong with naval forces coming together to exercise for the purpose of seeing if we can do a better job of keeping the most dangerous cargoes from reaching the most irresponsible purchasers of such cargo."
But in a speech last week, Bolton made it clear that the exercise was aimed at North Korea. "The threats posed by proliferation from North Korea in the Asian region are obvious," Bolton told the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. "In addition to training, these exercises serve a useful deterrent to companies that otherwise might be tempted to do business with proliferators like North Korea."
Shortly before Powell arrived here, North Korea issued another threatening statement. The government's KCNA news agency said Pyongyang would double the size of its "nuclear deterrent" if the United States did not drop its confrontational policy. Many U.S. intelligence officials have said they believe that in the past two years, North Korea has quadrupled its stockpile of weapons-grade plutonium, giving the country enough material to produce at least eight weapons.