Soldiers of South Korea, foreground, and North Korea, background, stand guard at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, 32 miles north of Seoul, on Wednesday.
N. Korea rejects U.S. talks offer
Will diplomacy work when negotiating with Kim Jong-Il? Wendy Sherman, a former special adviser to President Clinton on North Korea, discusses the options with ''Today's'' Matt Lauer.
Anti-U.S. drumbeat continues while Pyongyang agrees to talks with South Korea
MSNBC NEWS SERVICES
Jan. 15 — North Korea on Wednesday rejected as “pie in the sky” U.S. offers of dialogue and possible aid if it abandons its nuclear ambitions, according to its official news agency. However, the Pyongyang regime did agree to hold high-level talks with South Korea later this month, boosting the diplomatic drive for a peaceful solution to a nuclear dispute.
U.S. OFFICIALS — including President Bush on Tuesday — have held out the prospect of food and energy supplies, but Pyongyang maintained it would not accept any offer of dialogue with conditions attached.
Washington’s “loudmouthed supply of energy and food aid are like a pie in the sky, as they are possible only after the DPRK is totally disarmed,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to the news agency KCNA.
DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Pyongyang’s official title for the nation. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday there had been no official word on the possible offer. “That’s an additional unfortunate comment that North Korea has made,” he said of the north’s reported dismissal.
According to the agency report, the unidentified spokesman said his country’s nuclear issue could be resolved only when both sides negotiate “on an equal footing through fair negotiations that may clear both sides of their concerns.”
He repeated the regime’s oft-stated insistence that it win a nonaggression treaty from the United States.
“It is clear that the U.S. talk about dialogue is nothing but a deceptive drama to mislead the world public opinion,” the report quoted the unidentified ministry spokesman as saying.
As talk of aid stalled, an announcement Wednesday by the two Koreas that they would hold Cabinet-level meetings later this month was matched by hopeful comments from U.S. envoy James Kelly, who said before meetings in Beijing he was “reassured” by efforts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons development.
Tensions on the peninsula have been rising since North Korea admitted in October to having a secret nuclear program. Last week the communist regime announced its withdrawal from a global treaty aimed at limiting the spread of nuclear weapons, and threatened to begin testing missiles again.
South Korean officials have said they would use all inter-Korean contacts to persuade the North to give up its nuclear ambitions. Upcoming talks would be the ninth round the two countries have had since a North-South summit in June 2000 and the first since October.
While the North has maintained its antagonistic stance against the United States, it has not made any alarming moves on the ground.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military spotted increased patrols by North Korean soldiers over the past week in one area of the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula, said Lt. Col. Matthew Margotta, who commands a combined battalion of U.S. and South Korean soldiers.
But the activity in the 2½-mile-wide, 156-mile-long DMZ were “not alarming, just unusual,” and were probably “triggered by a heightening of tensions,” Margotta said.
The North Koreans have also occupied a guard tower in the DMZ that hadn’t been used in years, he said.
In a speech Wednesday at the Yongsan command headquarters for U.S. troops in South Korea, President-elect Roh called the U.S.-South Korean alliance the “driving force” for security in the region.
“We can never accept North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” Roh said, calling for international diplomacy to defuse the standoff. “The South Korean-U.S. alliance should be the basis for this effort,” he said.
The United States keeps 37,000 troops in South Korea, and the accidental killing of two teenage girls by American soldiers driving a military vehicle had increased calls that the force be scaled down.
The North has continually tried to drive a wedge between the South and the United States, its key ally, and on Wednesday called for a joint Korean struggle against “U.S. imperialists.”
“If the North and South join forces and take a joint stand, we can protect the nation’s dignity and safety against U.S. arrogance,” said Pyongyang Radio, monitored by South Korea’s national Yonhap news agency.
In Beijing, U.S. envoy Kelly entered talks at the Chinese Foreign Ministry saying he was optimistic about international efforts to peacefully resolve the confrontation. China has offered to host negotiations between the United States and North Korea.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, urged Russia to become involved in diplomatic efforts, saying Moscow could play a “vitally important role.”
The Supreme Court ordered a vote recount Wednesday for South Korea’s national election, a process that could overturn the victory of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun. But officials at the neutral National Election Committee and both parties say such a result is very unlikely.