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State Department: US Will Not Reward N. Korea for Freezing Nuclear Program - 2004-05-01

The United States Friday confirmed its participation in six-nation working-group talks starting May 12 in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear program. But the State Department said the United States will not be party to any reward for Pyongyang freezing its nuclear activities.

Officials here say the U.S. team in Beijing will be headed by special envoy for North Korea Joseph DiTrani, and that the Bush administration has only modest expectations for the working-group meetings.

After weeks of diplomatic maneuvering, North Korea announced Thursday it would take part in the mid-level talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

But North Korea coupled its acceptance with a blunt statement that it expects to be rewarded for taking even the preliminary step of a nuclear freeze.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said North Korea should derive no benefit from returning to nuclear agreements it has violated, including the nuclear freeze accord it concluded with the Clinton administration in 1994.

He said while the United States will provide no reward for a new freeze arrangement, it would not stand in the way of aid decisions by other parties to the talks.

"We're not going to pay to get them not to do things they shouldn't have been doing in the first place," he said. "That's about as clearly as I could state it. Other countries have taken positions that as we make progress in these talks, there may be some opportunity for them to renew programs that they've had before. And I think we've made clear we haven't necessarily objected to that. But we don't think it's good practice for any of us to start paying for North Korea to stop doing things it shouldn't have been doing all along."

The Bush administration has said it is ready to be part of written multi-lateral security guarantees for North Korea if it accepts the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, or CVID.

While rejecting any up-front benefits for North Korea, U.S. officials have said that in the context of a CVID agreement, the Bush administration might revive the "bold approach" of increased U.S. aid and recognition it was considering before the nuclear crisis erupted in 2002.

The parties to the talks - the United States, North Korea, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea - agreed on the working-group meetings at the close of their last round of full-scale nuclear talks in February.

They also agreed to seek another full round of talks by July. But a senior diplomat here said it is unlikely plans for that can be finalized at the working-group sessions, since the North Korean team there would not be empowered to make such a decision.