North Korea has rejected as "laughable" a new American offer for multilateral security guarantees if Pyongyang will scrap its nuclear weapons program. But U.S. President George Bush downplayed the significance of this in ultimately resolving the nuclear standoff.
North Korea said President Bush's offer is "laughable" and "not worth considering."
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday Pyongyang still wants a formal non-aggression treaty with the United States as insurance it will not be attacked.
Mr. Bush again ruled out such a treaty this week at the APEC summit in Bangkok. But for the first time, he offered written security assurances from Washington and its Asian partners, if North Korea scraps its nuclear weapons program.
In Indonesia Wednesday, Mr. Bush downplayed the rejection, saying the alliance will "stay the course."
"There is going to be a series of these statements," said Mr. Bush. "I guess they're trying to stand up to the five nations that are now united in convincing North Korea to disarm."
Previously the Bush Administration had insisted North Korea first dismantle its program before any concessions would be considered.
The United States wants Asian powers involved in any deal to make if harder for North Korea to renege on its commitments.
Washington has little trust that North Korea will honor a bilateral agreement, since its current nuclear drive violates a 1994 bilateral non-proliferation accord with the United States.
Mr. Bush says it is now North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's turn to show he is serious.
"He wanted a security agreement and we're willing to advance a multi-party security agreement, assuming that he is willing to abandon his nuclear weapos, designs and programs," Mr. Bush said.
North Korea has still not committed to another round of talks with the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan. The first round was held in August in Beijing and ended without any progress.
Japanese government Spokesman Yasuo Fukuda says Tokyo remains optimistic and hopeful that fruitful discussion would take place if a second round of talks takes place.
The standoff began last October, when U.S. officials said North Korea had a secret nuclear weapons program under way in violation of international agreements.