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State Department Rebukes US North Korea Rights Envoy for Nuclear Remarks

The State Department said Friday the U.S. special envoy for North Korea human rights issues was not speaking for the Bush administration when he criticized the conduct of talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear program. Rights envoy Jay Lefkowitz says North Korea is only using the talks to acquire outside aid. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department has taken the unusual step of publicly disavowing the remarks of special envoy Lefkowitz, who said Thursday North Korea is not serious about giving up its nuclear weapons, and is only using the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks as a way of extorting aid.

Lefkowitz, a former White House aide of President Bush, was named to the part-time human rights envoy post in 2005.

In a speech Thursday to the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy group, he expressed doubt North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal before Mr. Bush leaves office in 2009, or stop its suspected proliferation activities.

He also questioned whether China or U.S. ally South Korea, are willing to pressure Pyongyang to change course.

At a news briefing Friday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Lefkowitz' portfolio is human rights and that he was "out of his lane" in discussing the nuclear issue and prospects for success of the six-party talks.

"I know Jay is a very bright, dedicated person, public servant, who has taken on this responsibility on behalf of the Secretary of State," said McCormack. "He is not, however, somebody who speaks authoritatively about the six-party talks. His comments certainly don't represent the views of the administration. We believe that the six-party talks provide a forum, a mechanism and an opportunity to realize the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula."

McCormack said, while North Korea missed a December 31 deadline for accounting for all its nuclear programs, the six-party process has made a lot of progress to date, including the shutdown and disabling of North Korea's Yongbyon reactor complex.

While Lefkowitz suggested the administration has side-tracked human rights in the pursuit of a nuclear deal with Pyongyang, McCormack said nothing could be further from the truth. He also suggested that a completed nuclear deal could lead to a more open society in North Korea.

The spokesman would not say if Lefkowitz had been admonished by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for his remarks, but said he would be surprised if he repeats them.

Lefkowitz' comments reflect broad skepticism among U.S. conservatives about the wisdom of negotiating with North Korea, rather than trying to bring about an end to communist rule there.

Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, who stepped down at the end of 2006 after failing to win Senate confirmation to that post, has also been a strong critic of the six-party process.