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Talks Alone Will Not Guarantee End to N. Korean Nuclear Crisis, says Bolton - 2003-08-01

The top U.S. arms control official has cautiously welcomed North Korea's agreement to hold multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons programs. Undersecretary of State John Bolton noted that talks alone will not guarantee an end to the nuclear crisis in Korea.

Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton says North Korea's apparent willingness to hold six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons programs is encouraging. He said the format and timing of the talks remained unclear.

At a news conference in Tokyo, Mr. Bolton stressed that a verifiable inspection program would ultimately be needed to establish whether North Korea was dismantling its nuclear facilities. This, he said, would be at the heart of any agreement among the United States, North Korea and the North's Asian neighbors.

"We need very close coordination and preparation with the government of South Korea and the government of Japan and we talked about some of those kinds of issues," said Mr. Bolton. "[The] formula we have used, the complete, verifiable and reversible dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, has verification as its centerpiece."

Alluding to Pyongyang's demand for a non-aggression treaty with Washington, Mr. Bolton said some sort of written security guarantee could be given to the North if multilateral talks moved forward successfully.

"We have no intent to invade North Korea, and as Secretary Powell put it, we can find a way to put that down on a piece of paper," he said, "but that is going to be, as with all other issues raised by the North Korean weapons program, that is going to be resolved in the context of multilateral negotiations if and when they began."

Mr. Bolton spoke after North Korea informed governments that it would agree to talks with the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China. That agreement was first revealed Thursday by Russia, and has been confirmed by South Korea.

The agreement amounted to a reversal of Pyongyang's long-standing demand for direct discussions with Washington. The crisis began 10 months ago, when Washington revealed that Pyongyang had a nuclear weapons program under way in violation of several international agreements.

In Seoul on Thursday, Undersecretary Bolton had launched a sharp verbal attack on North Korea, criticizing leader Kim Jong Il for developing nuclear weapons while his people lived in what Mr. Bolton called a "hellish nightmare" of poverty and oppression.

His latest comments were more tempered, but he again cast doubt on the legitimacy of the North Korean leadership, noting the U.S. hope for peaceful reunification of the two Koreas under a democratically elected government.