[imText1]North Korea said Thursday it will not attend six-way talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program unless the United States drops its “hostile” policy toward the communist country.
“We have wanted the six-way talks but we are compelled to suspend our participation in the talks for an indefinite period until we have recognized that there is justification for us to attend the talks and there are ample conditions and an atmosphere to expect positive results from the talks,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The statement, carried by the North’s Korean Central News Agency, was Pyongyang’s first official reaction to what many thought was a conciliatory gesture by U.S. President George W. Bush toward the communist country in his State of the Union message on Feb. 2.
In sharp contrast to his address three years ago, in which he branded North Korea part of ‘an axis of evil’ with Iran and Iraq, Bush only said this time that he was “working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.”
Bush’s soft-toned statement this time had raised hope for an early resumption of six-way talks that have been stalled since last summer. After three rounds of inconclusive talks that involved South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, North Korea boycotted a fourth meeting, scheduled before the end of September, citing a hostile U.S. policy.
North Korea said its decision to stay away from the six-way dialogue is based on its belief that Bush’s second-term policy toward it will be little different from that of his first term.
“The U.S. disclosed its attempt to topple the political system in the DPRK at any cost, threatening it with a nuclear stick,” the statement said. “This compels us to take a measure to bolster its nuclear weapons arsenal in order to protect the ideology, system, freedom and democracy chosen by the people in the DPRK.”
The DPRK, or Democratic Republic of Korea, is the North’s official name.
The statement also condemned new U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for identifying North Korea as ‘an outpost of tyranny’ during her Senate confirmation hearings.
“The Bush administration termed the DPRK, its dialogue partner, an ‘outpost of tyranny,’ putting in the shade its hostile policy, and totally rejected it.” the statement said. “This deprived the DPRK of any justification to participate in the six-party talks.”
The nuclear row erupted in the fall of 2002 when U.S. officials accused North Korea of admitting to having a secret uranium-enriching program to make weapons, in addition to its acknowledged plutonium-based one. The North has denied making the confession.
North Korea has since expelled monitors from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency and quit the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), an international regime aimed at curbing nuclear proliferation.
In the most explicit mention yet of its nuclear capability, the North’s statement also said the country has become nuclear-armed.
“We had already taken the resolute action of pulling out of the NPT and have manufactured nukes to cope with the Bush administration’s ever-more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the DPRK,” the statement said.
The North’s nuclear capability has not been scientifically confirmed, since the country has never tested nuclear devices it claims to have developed.
The CIA believes that the North has manufactured one or two crude atomic bombs and may have secured enough weapons-grade plutonium to make several more.
Meanwhile, John R. Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, warned in Tokyo Thursday that North Korea may be willing to sell nuclear materials and devices to other countries.
“Given North Korea’s propensity to proliferate weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems, there’s little doubt that if they had weapons or technology or components of a nuclear weapons program, they would be prepared to sell those to a willing buyer,” The Associated Press quoted Bolton as telling a group of reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.
North Korea is suspected of providing Libya in 2001 with nearly 2 tons of uranium that can be enriched to nuclear-bomb-grade level. Libya turned the giant cake of uranium hexafluoride over to the U.S. last year as part of its agreement to give up its program of weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officials have recently said that they have strong evidence that the material came from North Korea.