North Korea says planned six-country talks about its nuclear weapons program could be scuttled if the United States persists in moves to bring the issue to the U.N. Security Council. While Washington and its Asian allies express optimism for the talks, North Korea continues to keep the world guessing with its rhetorical blasts.
North Korea's official news agency says any move by Washington to discuss North Korean's nuclear program in the U.N. Security Council would "hamstring" negotiations on the issue, and would be a "prelude to war."
Two days ago, North Korea agreed to a U.S. demand for multilateral talks on the program, which would include the United States, North Korea, and the North's Asian neighbors. U.S. and South Korean officials say the meetings could start in Beijing next month.
Agreeing to six-party talks was a major concession by Pyongyang, which had been holding out for one-on-one talks with Washington.
South Korea and Japan gave a cautious welcome to the announcement Friday. President Bush said he was optimistic that the North's acceptance of multilateral talks would lead to the dismantling of the weapons program, which Washington has been demanding since the program came to light last October.
But for several months, Pyongyang has also been issuing warnings that any action on the matter by the United Nations would be considered an act of war.
During a speech Thursday in Seoul, Undersecretary of State John Bolton criticized the Security Council, saying its credibility was at stake because it had failed to take up the North Korean nuclear issue.
In its latest commentary, the North Korean news agency blasted the U.S. attempt to involve the Security Council, calling it "a grave criminal act" that would hamstring efforts at starting a dialogue.
Pyongyang's rhetoric is often extreme, and it is difficult to say whether this was a serious threat to back out of talks to which the North had just agreed.
There are indications that Pyongyang has obtained one important concession from Washington. The Washington Post quoted Beijing-based diplomats as saying Washington has agreed to Pyongyang's demand for one-on-one discussions, to be held in the context of the larger negotiations.
The North Korean news agency seemed to confirm this, saying that Washington had informed North Korea "some time ago" that bilateral talks "may be held within the framework of multilateral talks."
The new talks are expected to be held in Beijing, which hosted a brief meeting between Washington and Pyongyang in April.
The South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted officials as saying that South Korean, U.S., and Japanese officials will meet to coordinate their North Korea policy next week in Washington.