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N. Korea Rejects Latest US Proposal - 2003-12-15

North Korea has rejected a U.S. proposal for resolving the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons, making it even more unlikely that talks on the issue will be held anytime soon. The rejection also contains a threat by the communist state to add to its nuclear arsenal if talks are delayed.

An official North Korean newspaper says Washington's latest proposal is disappointing because it ignores Pyongyang's offer to freeze its nuclear weapons program in return for concessions from the United States. The Rodong Sinmun article says that what it calls U.S. delaying tactics will compel North Korea to "steadily increase its nuclear deterrent force."

The article indicates North Korea particularly objects to Washington's demand that it verifiably end its weapons program. The report says if Washington wants a verifiable and irrevocable dismantling of the nuclear program, then North Korea will demand a verifiable and irrevocable security assurance from the United States.

The comments mean it is very unlikely talks will be held soon about the nuclear issue. Diplomats have been working for months to arrange another meeting with North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The six nations held an inconclusive round of talks in Beijing in August.

For several weeks, it appeared that talks would be held this month. However, Pyongyang last week said it would show up for new talks only if Washington agreed to drop sanctions and provide fuel aid in return for the North freezing its nuclear program. President Bush has rejected that demand.

China also is pushing Washington to be more accommodating toward Pyongyang. A spokeswoman at Foreign Ministry says that Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell by phone. The spokeswoman says Mr. Li introduced China's stance on the issue and expressed hope the United States would take a more flexible and practical attitude toward North Korea in preparing for the next round of talks.

In 1994, North Korea agreed to freeze a nuclear weapons program in return for fuel aid from the United States and the construction of two nuclear power reactors. But late last year, the United States accused Pyongyang of breaking that agreement by having a secret nuclear program. Since then, North Korea has revived its older program, and has said several times it has nuclear weapons and the right to develop them.