Global Policy Forum

US Says No to Talks with North Korea


Burt Herman

Associated Press
June 21, 2006

North Korea said Wednesday it wants direct talks with the United States over its apparent plans to test-fire a long-range missile, but a top U.S. envoy rejected the request. North Korea this week issued a bristling declaration of its right to carry out the launch and said U.S. concerns should be resolved through negotiations. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said a missile threat wasn't the way to seek dialogue.

"You don't normally engage in conversations by threatening to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles, and it's not a way to produce a conversation because if you acquiesce in aberrant behavior, you simply encourage the repetition of it, which we're obviously not going to do," Bolton told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. President Bush said North Korea faces further isolation from the international community if it test-fires the missile believed capable of reaching U.S. soil.

"It should make people nervous when non-transparent regimes who have announced they have nuclear warheads, fire missiles," Bush said at a meeting with European leaders in Vienna, Austria. "This is not the way you conduct business in the world." The U.S. and Japan have said they could consider sanctions against North Korea if it goes ahead with the launch, and Washington was weighing responses that could include attempting to shoot down the missile. A spokesman for former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung cited the missile crisis as the reason for canceling a trip next week to the North that could have offered a rare chance for talks to soothe tensions. South Korea also said that its humanitarian aid to North Korea might be affected by such a test. "If North Korea test-fires a missile, it might have an impact on aid of rice and fertilizer to North Korea," South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok told opposition lawmakers, according to his spokesman.

South Korea has shipped 150,000 tons of fertilizer this year and had planned to send another 200,000 tons. Pyongyang has asked for 500,000 tons of rice this year, but Seoul has yet to agree. At the Vienna summit, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel said that if North Korea fires the missile, Europe would join the United States in condemning it. "There will be a strong statement, strong answer from the international community and Europe will be part of it," Schuessel said.

Bolton said he was continuing discussions with U.N. Security Council members on possible action. "Obviously the priority remains trying to persuade North Korea not to conduct the launch," he said. North Korea shocked the world in 1998 when it fired a missile that flew over northern Japan into the Pacific. Intelligence reports say the North has fueled a Taepodong-2 missile with a range experts estimate at up to 9,300 miles - making it capable of reaching parts of the United States. North Korea claims it has nuclear weapons, but isn't believed to have a design that would be small and light enough to top a missile. After the 1998 missile test, the Security Council issued a press statement, its mildest comment. Bolton said there would be a stronger council reaction this time.

"We're seeing broad support for something stronger," he said. As countries urged Pyongyang not to conduct the test, the chief of staff of China's military met with an army commander from North Korea and the North's ambassador to China, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Chinese military chief, Liang Guanglie, told North Korean army commander Ri Yong Hwan that China was eager to expand cooperation between the two armed forces, Xinhua said. The brief report did not mention the apparent missile test plans. North Korea said in comments published Wednesday that its self-imposed 1999 moratorium on testing long-range missiles no longer applies because it's not in direct dialogue with Washington, suggesting it would hold off on any launch if Washington agreed to new talks.

"Some say our missile test launch is a violation of the moratorium, but this is not the case," Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, told South Korea's Yonhap news agency in an interview from New York. "North Korea as a sovereign state has the right to develop, deploy, test-fire and export a missile," he said. "We are aware of the U.S. concerns about our missile test-launch. So our position is that we should resolve the issue through negotiations."

Pyongyang has consistently pressed for direct dialogue with the United States, while Washington insists it will only speak to the North at six-nation nuclear talks. The North has refused to return to those nuclear talks since November because of a U.S. crackdown on the country's alleged illicit financial activity.

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Thomas Scheiffer said the United States has means of responding to a North Korean missile test that it didn't have in 1998, and is considering "all options."

Defense officials in Washington told The Associated Press that the White House was weighing responses to a missile launch that could include trying to shoot it down while in flight over the Pacific. Such a move was considered unlikely, however. On Tuesday, North Korea asserted its right to test-fire missiles in a sharply worded statement to Japanese reporters in Pyongyang.

"This issue concerns our autonomy. Nobody has a right to slander that right," the Kyodo News agency quoted North Korean Foreign Ministry official Ri Pyong Dok as saying. During a 2002 summit with Japan, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il signed an agreement to extend the 1999 moratorium until at least 2003 - and reaffirmed the launch ban at another summit in 2004. Kim Dae-jung met Kim Jong Il in June 2000 in the first, and only, summit between leaders of the divided Koreas. The two Kims had been expected to meet again during next week's scheduled four-day visit. U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said signs of a possible North Korean launch remained uncertain.

"They seem to be moving toward a launch, but the intelligence is not conclusive at this point," Hadley told reporters on Air Force One on the way to Europe. Bad weather at the launch site Wednesday dimmed chances of an immediate test.

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