Secretary of State Colin Powell told Senators that North Korea's proposal for ending the crisis over its nuclear program would not lead in the right direction. But he says the overture will be studied, and that talks with North Korea and China last week in Beijing were useful.
While the United States has made the verifiable end of the North Korean nuclear program the starting point for discussion of any new benefits to Pyongyang, the proposal by North Korea is understood to reverse that order and provide for dismantling weapons only at the end of the process.
Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Powell said the North Korean proposal was "of a kind we have seen before", but said the Bush administration would examine it carefully because of the interest in it of U.S. friends and allies. At the same time, he made clear it does not offer a way out of the crisis.
"It is a proposal that is not going to take us in the direction that we need to go," he said. "But nevertheless, we will study it. I think that is appropriate. We will not be intimidated by their claims and threats. As the President has said often and repeatedly and there should be no question about it, we will not be blackmailed."
State Department officials have said the North Korean proposal was essentially a compilation of previous demands for security guarantees, diplomatic recognition and aid after the delivery of which Pyongyang would undertake to end its nuclear program and possibly also its ballistic missile efforts.
Despite his negative appraisal of the proposal, Mr. Powell said the Beijing talks had been useful and praised China for its insistence on a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
He stressed again that the nuclear issue is more than a bilateral matter between the United States and North Korea and urged international pressure on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.
"They must be brought to understand that the presence of this kind of capability will buy them nothing of any use, and only the total elimination, verifiable elimination, of this kind of capability, these sorts of programs, and other more responsible behavior on their part, will bring about a solution to this problem," he said.
Mr. Powell's Senate testimony revealed some new details of North Korea's presentation in Beijing, even though he said North Korean statements always included a degree of ambiguity.
He said North Korea claimed to have reprocessed all the 8,000 spent fuel rods from the Yongbyon reactor complex it reopened last year, in violation of international commitments. But he said that action, which would provide North Korea with enough plutonium to build several nuclear bombs, has not been confirmed by other sources.
Mr. Powell also said that in admitting that his country possessed nuclear weapons, a North Korean official said Pyongyang had revealed that to the United States a decade before.
He said administration officials have since canvassed U.S. officials and diplomats who had contact with North Koreans in past years, none of whom could recall hearing such a claim.
Meanwhile, President Bush discussed the Beijing talks by telephone with South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
A White House spokesman said Mr. Bush reiterated to both leaders his intention to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, and to press for the inclusion of Japan and South Korea in any follow-on discussions with Pyongyang.