WASHINGTON — A senior State Department official said Monday that he believed North Korea wanted to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons program, but that the United States would not parrot language demanded by North Korea like a circus animal to lure Pyongyang back to the bargaining table.
In response to North Korea's concerns for its security, the United States has said repeatedly that it has no intention of attacking or invading the hard-line communist state, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the U.S. does not question North Korea's sovereignty.
But Rice has not expressly said that the United States harbors no "hostile intent" toward or promises "peaceful coexistence" with the regime in Pyongyang -- language that North Korea has demanded as a condition for returning to the negotiations after a nearly one-year hiatus.
"The problem is that it's a North Korean formulation," said the senior official, who in keeping with diplomatic protocol declined to be named. "We don't want to be reduced to sort of a circus animal doing an act, being told to jump through various hoops at the behest of the North Koreans. We have told them really all they need to know" about U.S. policy.
"The fact that we don't repeat the precise words that they want us to use I don't think is an excuse [for Pyongyang] to stay away from the talks," the official added. "We're talking about ... the possession of a nuclear weapons program, and to have that turn on whether we repeat their precise words or use formulations of our own does not strike me as a very serious approach."
North Korea told the United States last week that it intended to return to the talks but did not say when.
Pyongyang has participated in three rounds of the talks with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia about abandoning its nuclear program. But it announced after the third round last June that it did not intend to return.
North Korea has since declared itself a nuclear weapons state. In March, North Korean officials announced that in the future, they would discuss only mutual nuclear disarmament with the U.S., rather than the one-sided abandonment of their country's nuclear programs that Washington and Pyongyang's neighbors have demanded.
However, "we don't have nuclear weapons on the [Korean] peninsula, so it's not clear, really, what they have in mind," the senior official said.
Nevertheless, the official said North Korea was "running out of excuses" to boycott the talks.
"It just doesn't make sense to stay out and try to develop nuclear programs when everyone is against them," he said.
The official would not discuss intelligence information that North Korea is preparing to test a nuclear device. However, he said that in the past, countries that announced they had nuclear weapons went on to prove it by testing them.
In Seoul on Monday, South Korean President Roh Moohyun again urged the North to return to the talks, saying that if they resumed, "I am certain that there will be more flexible and progressive dialogue."
Roh met with President Bush last week in Washington to discuss the stalled talks. On Monday, Roh said, "we are preparing comprehensive, very detailed and active measures" to help the North improve its economy and its relations with the rest of the world, Reuters reported. No specifics were mentioned.
Following the talks in Washington, Bush said the U.S. would not offer North Korea new inducements to return to the talks but that a proposal made at the last session remained on the table. Washington has said it will join the other parties in the talks to help ease North Korea's economic and political isolation once it gives up its nuclear programs and that process is verified.