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N. Korea Balks at Another Round of Talks

Regime says its nuclear program is no longer up for discussion. Some observers dismiss the move as posturing.

August 31, 2003|Barbara Demick | Times Staff Writer

SEOUL — North Korea declared indignantly Saturday that it would conduct no more negotiations over its nuclear program, pouring cold water on those trying hard to put an enthusiastic spin on last week's six-nation talks in Beijing.

"We no longer have interest or expectations either for these kind of talks," a North Korean spokesman told reporters at the Beijing airport, reading from a statement as the delegation prepared to fly home.

The announcement left shrouded in doubt what participants in the talks had said was their key achievement: an agreement to hold another round of talks in about two months. But it was quickly dismissed by some diplomats and observers as a ploy to enhance the North's future bargaining position.

North Korea's official media followed up on the statement with a torrent of criticism about the just-completed summit. The Foreign Ministry dismissed the talks as "not only useless, but harmful" and declared that Pyongyang's efforts to develop nuclear weapons would continue.

"We are now more convinced than before that we have no other alternatives but to continue strengthening our nuclear deterrence as a self-defensive measure to protect our sovereignty," said a statement distributed by North Korea's official KCNA news agency.

A State Department spokeswoman had no comment Saturday on the North Korean statements.

"There is a consensus that the multilateral process is valuable and should continue. That's what we said yesterday, and that's where we are today," said Nancy Beck, the spokeswoman.

Despite the North Korean statements, South Korean officials were particularly upbeat about what was achieved during last week's negotiations, which also included diplomats from the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

The summit's participants "reached a tacit agreement to hold a new round of talks in Beijing, and I'm confident that it will occur within two months," National Security Advisor Ra Jong Yil said on South Korean radio.

Ra said he was encouraged that the parties had begun to discuss a phased approach in which North Korea would start efforts to freeze its nuclear program in return for U.S. assurances that the Americans did not plan to attack the North.

"The United States appears to concur that nuclear issues should be tackled gradually and simultaneously," Ra added.

The Japanese delegation also had the impression that North Korea had agreed to another round of negotiations.

"The meeting was the first round on the nuclear problem, and I believe it has clearly set a direction toward the denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula, Mitoji Yabunaka, head of the Japanese delegation, told reporters upon returning to Tokyo.

At the same time, Japan also stepped up plans to develop a missile-defense system. The Defense Ministry asked parliament Friday for $1.2 billion in next year's budget to start work on the U.S.-designed system.

A professor of international relations who has been following the talks downplayed on Saturday the North's statement at the airport.

"I see it as posturing. It is consistent with what they have been doing. They like to demonstrate their toughness," said Ming Wan, who teaches at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and specializes in East Asian affairs. "The important thing is that they were there talking this week. And my bet is they will be there for the next round of talks."

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Times staff writer David Savage in Washington contributed to this report.

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