KOREAN PENINSULA Envoy: Aiding North is possible
The Bush administration is split on how to deal with North Korea, an analyst said.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea might get energy aid from the United States and other countries if it resolves concerns over its nuclear weapons development, a top U.S. envoy said today after meeting South Korea's president-elect.
Assistant U.S. Secretary of State James Kelly appeared to be offering an incentive to North Korea to give up its nuclear programs, though he did not say whether his comment represented a change in U.S. policy.
U.S. officials have previously said they would not reward North Korea for abandoning its nuclear programs, and that discussions of aid and better ties can only follow steps to dismantle those programs.
"Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area," Kelly said at a news conference in Seoul.
One analyst said the Bush administration seemed divided over how to deal with North Korea, with some officials espousing dialogue and others opposing it.
"It seems the hawks and doves have not yet finished tuning their policy," said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.
"But fundamentally, Kelly's comments are not really new since they still carry the condition that North Korea must first give up its nuclear programs," Koh said.
North Korea insisted Sunday that it never admitted having a secret nuclear program, sending another conflicting signal in the escalating crisis over its alleged plans to build nuclear weapons.
"The claim that we admitted developing nuclear weapons is an invention fabricated by the U.S. with sinister intentions," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper as saying.
In October, the United States said North Korea had acknowledged having a weapons program. That announcement touched off the latest standoff, which led to North Korea's decision last week to withdraw from the landmark Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
North Korea today defended its withdrawal from the treaty, saying the global accord exposed the country to the "constant nuclear threat" by the United States, the state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said.
"A military option is not a monopoly of the United States," the paper said, warning that North Korea would strike back if attacked.
In Seoul, Kelly met President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who said the North's nuclear development was unacceptable and that the dispute must be resolved through dialogue. The two countries are seeking a common policy approach to North Korea, with the South favoring a softer line.
Kelly said the United States was willing to talk to North Korea "about their response to the international community" on the nuclear issue. But he suggested that Washington, which is trying to downplay the dispute as it considers a possible war against Iraq, was willing to wait.
"I think we're just going to wait to see," said Kelly, who will travel Tuesday to China, as well as Singapore, Indonesia and Japan.
The United States believes North Korea has one or two nuclear weapons and could make several more within six months if it extracts weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel rods at a reprocessing plant.
The North Korean newspaper blamed the United States for the current crisis and warned: "If the United States evades its responsibility and challenges us, we'll turn the citadel of imperialists into a sea of fire."
In its October announcement, the United States said the North had admitted to having an atomic weapons program in violation of a 1994 accord, under which Pyongyang pledged to freeze operations at its nuclear facilities in exchange for energy supplies. In response to the admission, the United States suspended fuel shipments, and the North expelled U.N. inspectors and said it reactivated its Yongbyon nuclear facilities.
After announcing its withdrawal from the nuclear arms control treaty Friday, North Korea ratcheted up tensions even further by suggesting it might resume missile testing.
But North Korean Deputy U.N. Ambassador Han Song Ryol told New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, that the country had no intention of building nuclear bombs.
"He told me that in a dialogue with the United States, North Korea would discuss America's concerns over verifying its nuclear program. I think that's positive," Richardson said Saturday at the end of three days of meetings with the North Koreans.
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