US: N.Korea throws up smoke screens
North Korea is throwing up "smoke screens" in its continued refusal to return to six-country talks on its nuclear programs, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.
Pyongyang has repeatedly demanded Washington state it has "no hostile intent" toward North Korea. Rice dismissed the demand in an interview with the Reuters, saying, "The North Koreans are throwing up smoke screens."
"Let's be realistic here. This isn't an issue of what we say or what we don't say. This is an issue of whether the North Koreans come to the table prepared to make a strategic choice" to give up their nuclear activities, she said.
Rice refused to use the phrase "no hostile intent," which seems to have special significance for Pyongyang and which the United States has at times emphasized to reassure North Korea.
The administration has insisted it has no plans to invade or attack North Korea, a point Rice reaffirmed.
But when asked if she would say the phrase and rule out any U.S. hostile intent, she said, "I'm not going to play the North Koreans' game."
Rice plans to visit Asia next week when a major topic will be North Korea, which on Feb. 10. declared for the first time it had nuclear weapons.
Rice said she would discuss with Chinese, South Korean and Japanese officials "what other steps need to be taken" to deal with the nuclear issue but declined to provide details.
Some U.S. officials advocate leaving North Korea out of the six-party talks -- which also include the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia -- or pulling the plug on the negotiating process altogether and taking the nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council, where Pyongyang could face sanctions.
UNITED FRONT WITH ALLIES
"I'm not going to get ahead of myself. We're going to talk to the parties and see where we are," Rice said, emphasizing the importance of a united front between Washington and its allies.
She underscored the U.S. view that states that do not adhere to international obligations should be "confronted with clear choices" and that with its Feb. 10 announcement Pyongyang had increased its isolation.
Kyodo news agency reported on Thursday that the U.S. point man on North Korea, ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill, warned that Pyongyang would face grave consequences if it did not return to the negotiations.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher later affirmed Hill's remarks at a news briefing.
Three rounds of six-way talks since August 2003 have been inconclusive. A fourth round planned for late 2004 never materialized.
On Feb 10, Pyongyang indicated it would not return to the talks, but less than two weeks later, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reopened the door to negotiations if conditions were right and Washington showed sincerity. Since then, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity.
Washington has relied heavily on China to host the talks and entice North Korea to resume negotiations.