North Korea Threatens Harder Line in Nuclear Disarmament Talks

Posted August 3rd, 2012 at 5:15 pm (UTC-5)
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In a rare direct message, a senior North Korean official has told VOA the Pyongyang government intends to harden its opposition to international pressure against its nuclear weapons program.

Choi Sun-hee, a deputy director of North Korea's Foreign Ministry, sent a note by email to VOA's Korean Service Thursday, following three days of informal talks between North Korean diplomats and an unofficial American delegation.

Choi said she led the North Korean team at the talks in Singapore earlier this week. She wrote that, as a result of the talks, her government has “no choice but to re-examine the nuclear issue due to the U.S.'s firm hostile policies” toward it. Unless there is a change on the U.S. side, she added, “The prospect of denuclearization [by North Korea] is very remote.”

The North Korean official summed up her government's position in this way: “If the U.S. sincerely engages in dialogue and withdraws its hostile policies – not through words but through action – to resolve the nuclear issue and improve the relations between the two sides, we will be willing to work to resolve the issues.”

Her message to VOA did not, however, say what policies North Korea considers hostile. In the past, North Korea has demanded that Washington close its military bases in neighboring South Korea, end military exercises with South Korea and drop demands for Pyongyang to take transparent steps toward shutting down its nuclear programs.

VOA's Korean Service verified the authenticity of the email from Choi through North Korean diplomatic sources.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman confirmed there were unofficial talks in Singapore this week between North Korean and American groups, but said there was no U.S. government involvement in the meetings. She told VOA that as a matter of long-standing policy, “the United States is committed to the maintenance of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and has no hostile intent toward” North Korea.

The spokeswoman said U.S. officials believe “North Korea will achieve nothing by threats or provocations. Such behavior will only continue to isolate the country and provide no real opportunity for engagement with the international community.”

In a recent interview with VOA, the top U.S. nuclear envoy, Glyn Davies, called on North Korea to fulfill its obligations to end its nuclear programs. Davies said North Korea knows what it is obligated to do under U.N. Security Council resolutions and under agreements it has signed over the years on giving up its nuclear weapons.

Since 2003, the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have worked to persuade Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. In 2005, Pyongyang agreed to do so, in return for diplomatic and economic benefits. The so-called six-party talks, however, have stalled for several years. Pyongyang has complained about international sanctions imposed on it, and blames the other five nations for failing to follow through on their commitments.

North Korea, an impoverished communist state, has suffered chronic food shortages for nearly two decades and relies heavily on foreign aid. A United Nations team is in the country now to assess crop damage from a recent flood.

The United States, South Korea, Japan and other key donor nations, however, have been reluctant to provide much aid because Pyongyang has tested two nuclear explosive devices since 2006. In addition, North Korea's tests of long-range missiles have prompted United Nations condemnation.