The Bush administration Tuesday denied a published report that it was considering giving North Korea formal non-aggression guarantees, but it reiterated verbal assurances that there are no U.S. plans to attack the reclusive communist state. The comments came as Chinese-led diplomatic efforts continued on convening new talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
Administration spokesmen say North Korea cannot expect a non-aggression pact, or any other diplomatic benefit, for violating international agreements and re-starting its nuclear weapons program.
But they are also making clear the United States' readiness for further talks on the issue including possibly a new round of three-way talks hosted by China, as a prelude to broader multi-lateral discussions.
The comments followed a Washington Post report Tuesday that the Bush administration was considering granting North Korea formal guarantees that it would not come under U.S. attack as part of a deal for the verifiable dismantling of its nuclear facilities.
Pyongyang has long been seeking a non-aggression pact with Washington. But both White House and State Department officials said there has been no change in the U.S. stand against giving in to what is seen as North Korean nuclear blackmail.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said President George Bush has said repeatedly the United States has no intention of invading North Korea and that the real issue is that country's nuclear program.
"The issue now is not whether the United States provides a piece of paper," said the spokesman. "The issue is whether North Korea stops developing nuclear weapons. And that's where the focus has to be, and that's where the focus is."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the administration was not willing to take a military option off the table for dealing with North Korea but was pursuing a diplomatic solution.
He also would not rule out a possible U.S. return to three-way talks with North Korea hosted by China, provided they are followed by discussions that would also involve South Korea and Japan. He said no substantive progress can be made on key issues unless the two American allies are included.
China is trying to broker new talks and sent its Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo to Pyongyang and then to Washington last week in the effort to convene a follow-on to the three-way meeting it hosted in Beijing in late April.
Emerging from a closed-door meeting with Congressional leaders, Secretary of State Colin Powell said his lengthy meeting with Mr. Dai last Friday had been useful and productive.
However he dismissed the idea reportedly advanced by China that the United States and Pyongyang should revive the 1994 "Agreed Framework" that froze the North Korean nuclear program. "Some would suggest that we should just go back to the way it was done 10 years ago," said Mr. Powell. "But the way it was done 10 years ago left that capability in place. We want a permanent solution this time, that is irrevocable and we have a very strong sound policy that is gaining support from our friends in Asia who are most directly concerned."
In a rare news conference in Washington Tuesday, Chinese embassy spokesman Sun Weide called the situation on the Korean Peninsula "critical." He said China wanted to "kick-start" the Beijing talks and that North Korea's legitimate security concerns should be addressed.