U.S. officials have said the diplomatic effort to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions cannot drag on forever. But administration spokesman are denying reports the White House has set a late-June deadline for Pyongyang to return to the bargaining table.
China has hosted three rounds of the six-party talks, but North Korea refused to attend a fourth round that had been scheduled for last September, and continues to shun the discussions.
On her just-completed Asian trip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke of unspecified other options available in the international system in case the process remains stalled.
A report from Tokyo Wednesday quoting diplomatic sources said Ms. Rice had told Chinese leaders the United States cannot afford to wait more than a year from the last round of talks held last June. However spokesman for both the White House and State Department said the report was without foundation and that there is no deadline.
At his news conference in Texas with Mexican and Canadian leaders, President Bush said the other participants in the six-party talks are united on the need for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and for Pyongyang to return to the bargaining, but that he is taking a patient approach.
"So we've got five nations saying the same thing to Korea, North Korea. And we'll continue saying it North Korea. And, I'm a patient person, and so are a lot of people that are involved in this issue," said Mr. Bush. "But the leader of North Korea must understand that when we five nations speak, we mean what they say. And there is a way forward, I repeat for Kim Jong-Il. And it's his choice to make; we've made our choice."
The United States has said it is prepared to be part of multi-lateral guarantees for North Korea's security under a deal for a complete and verifiable end to its nuclear program. It has ruled out up-front economic or diplomatic benefits for Pyongyang until it disarms, but has said other participants can give the economically-hard pressed communist state aid as the process unfolds.
Mr. Bush spoke to reporters after hearing a two hour briefing from Secretary Rice on the week-long trip to South and East Asia she completed late Monday.
In the main policy speech of the trip in Tokyo, Ms. Rice said the North Korean government can find the respect it desires, and acquire the assistance it needs, if it is willing to make a strategic choice for peace.
Pyongyang said flatly in early February that it possesses nuclear weapons and was staying away from the talks because of what it said was a hostile policy by the United States. It has said it will return to negotiations only when conditions are right.