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Chief US Nuclear Negotiator Calls N. Korean Statement on Talks 'Not Helpful' and 'Silly'

The chief U.S. delegate to multilateral talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capability has sharply criticized Pyongyang's demand for broader arms reduction talks. North Korea also wants a formal apology for what it considers an insult by the United States.

U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill is flatly rejecting North Korea's demand for a "more equitable footing" in six-party talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

In a lecture to South Korean students Friday, Ambassador Hill was stinging in his response.

"It was not helpful. It was, frankly, not serious," Mr. Hill says.

Ambassador Hill is the top U.S. delegate to the talks, which also involve Japan, Russia, China, and South Korea.

There have been three rounds of talks, but North Korea said February it is boycotting a fourth, and that it already has nuclear weapons. Thursday, North Korea said that since it already is a nuclear power, the aim of the talks should be arms reductions for all parties.

The wording implies North Korea will not accept ending its nuclear programs as the main goal of the talks.

South Korean officials say they will respond to the statement after they have fully interpreted it. For now, they have been repeating Seoul's position of zero tolerance for nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

Ambassador Hill, however, made it clear he has little patience for North Korean pronouncements.

"I think they ought to come to the table, and if they want to make sarcastic statements, they can make them to me. And stop with these silly press announcements," Mr. Hill says.

The United States and the other talk partners want Pyongyang to live up to its international agreements to remain free of nuclear weapons. North Korea says it requires the weapons to deter a possible U.S. attack.

Washington has repeatedly said it has no plans to attack North Korea, and that Pyongyang may receive security guarantees and economic aid if it gives up its nuclear ambitions.

On Thursday, North Korea's deputy ambassador to the United Nations said it would not return to talks unless it received a "clear apology" for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's comment a few months ago describing North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny."

U.S. officials, including President Bush, have said there is no deadline for North Korea to return to nuclear talks. However, they have also said unless there is progress soon, Washington will have to consider "other options" for dealing with North Korea. They have not specified what those options may be.

On Friday, North Korea said its parliament would hold its annual session on April 11. The session had been scheduled for March, but it was postponed after Pyongyang declared it would not attend the six-party talks and that it had nuclear weapons. Many experts on North Korea consider the Supreme People's Assembly a rubber stamp body that merely approves policies drafted by the government.