U.S. North Korea envoy says nuclear talks uncertain
The top U.S. diplomat on the North Korean nuclear crisis said on Wednesday that the fate of six-party talks was in doubt after a day of discussions in China, host of three rounds of inconclusive negotiations.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill had arrived in Beijing on Tuesday to try to find a way to entice North Korea back into talks on its nuclear programs that have been stalled for nearly a year.
The U.S. point man on North Korea had arrived from Seoul and was scheduled to travel to Tokyo on Wednesday to try to revive the talks, which were last held in June.
North Korea has since refused to return to the table for the talks that include the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, citing what it calls a "hostile" U.S. policy, but Hill said he was not yet out of patience.
Pyongyang said explicitly for the first time in February that it had nuclear weapons, ratcheting up the crisis that began in 2002 over what Washington said was its enrichment of uranium that could be used to make weapons.
North Korea's claims that it has weapons have not been independently verified, but U.S. media reports have said it may be preparing its first nuclear test.
"One has to be concerned if one looks at the history of any country that announces its entry into the nuclear club and into the group of nuclear nations," Hill said.
"One certainly has to be concerned about what they might do to further demonstrate that. And I think we are all very concerned about that and we all have to think very hard about how we are going to react to that."
The United States has acknowledged it may be considering stronger moves against North Korea, such as referring its nuclear programs to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, if Pyongyang continues to stay away from talks.
"I don't want to speculate on what the other options are when we exhaust this option. But certainly we have to be at least thinking about what options are available to us," Hill said.
A stronger option for the Bush administration would be its pursuit of a U.N. resolution empowering nations to intercept ships that may contain nuclear-related materials in and out of North Korea.
U.S. officials have acknowledged they may be discussing such a move but said no proposal had been presented to senior policy makers.
Hill declined to say next steps might be if the North continues to stay away from six-party talks.
"We have a lot of options but one option we don't want is to walk away from this," he said.