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US Rejects Criticism of Former North Korea Envoy

The State Department Friday angrily rejected an assertion by a former U.S. envoy for North Korea that the Bush administration is overstating Pyongyang's interest in nuclear disarmament. A spokesman said the former envoy, Jack Pritchard, is not privy to reliable information about the six-party nuclear talks. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The Bush administration has reacted with unusual vehemence to comments by the former nuclear envoy suggesting that North Korea is being far less cooperative on a pending nuclear deal than U.S. officials have indicated.

Former negotiator Jack Pritchard, who held posts in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, told the Washington Post recent conversations he had with officials in Pyongyang undermine U.S. claims of progress in negotiations.

Among other things, Pritchard is quoted by the Post as saying that North Korea intends to retain its nuclear weapons until a full and final normalization of relations with the United States, and that Pyongyang does not feel obligated to provide other parties with key information about its nuclear arsenal and weapons-making techniques.

Pritchard further suggests that the emerging nuclear deal with North Korea is a poor one that will cause the next U.S. administration with more problems than it solves.

In comments to reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey depicted Pritchard as a former official with a political axe to grind, who is not involved in the six-party talks.

"I'm not sure who he's talking to. But I think the President, the Secretary, and Chris Hill have all made clear that we expect the North Koreans to provide us a declaration that meets the requirements of the six parties. You know, there's a tremendous industry in this town of former officials who all like to in some ways pretend that they're closer to the action than they currently are," he said.

A State Department official who spoke on terms of anonymity was more blunt in his criticism. He said Pritchard's current employer - the Washington-based Korea Economic Institute, is almost entirely funded by South Korea and that he should be considered a lobbyist, not an objective commentator.

The official also said Pritchard has lately espoused a more skeptical view of North Korean intentions, in line with that of South Korea's new, more conservative administration. He said Pritchard has sold his soul to a foreign government and is not credible.

The chief U.S. envoy to the six-party talks Christopher Hill said in Moscow Friday that North Korea is preparing to deliver its long-overdue declaration of its nuclear program and activities.

The Assistant Secretary of State said the declaration must be verified as complete and correct, and that North Korea's handover early this month of thousands of documents relating to its now-closed Yongbyon reactor complex is a sign authorities there understand the importance of verification.