LUXEMBOURG (AP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that North Korea should return to disarmament talks and avoid a path toward further international isolation. “The world has given them a way out and we hope they will take that way out,” she said.
Rice’s comments came after North Korea stated explicitly that it has nuclear weapons and said that it needs them as protection against an increasingly hostile United States.
“The North Koreans have been told by the president of the United States that the United States has no intention of attacking or invading North Korea,” Rice said during a news conference here with European Union leaders.
“There is a path for the North Koreans that would put them in a more reasonable relationship with the rest of the world,” she said, referring to an international disarmament effort that includes the United States.
Giving up nuclear weapons would offer hope for a better life to that country’s people, Rice said. North Korea is desperately poor, and people are fleeing the country to avoid starvation.
The North Korean statement may be a bluff meant to put the United States back on its heels before the regime finally does return to the disarmament table. North Korea told a visiting U.S. congressional delegation last month that it would return to those six-nation talks.
Asked to analyze the thinking in Pyongyang, Rice was almost dismissive.
“I’m not sure anyone ever gets very far by trying to second-guess the motivation of the North Korean regime,” she said.
“The fact is that we have for some time taken account of the capacity of the North Koreans to perhaps have a few nuclear weapons,” Rice said. “There’s no definitive — I can’t go into the intelligence here — but there’s no definitive answers of how many, but this has been since the mid-90s that the United States has assumed that the North Koreans could make such steps.
Traveling with President Bush to North Carolina Thursday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters, “It’s rhetoric we’ve heard before. We remain committed to the six-party talks. We remain committed to a peaceful diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue with regards to North Korea.”
Talking to reporters en route to Ireland for a refueling stop, Rice noted that she previously had scheduled a meeting in Washington next Monday with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon and also said that she and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld will see their Japanese counterparts soon.
and will discuss the North Korean situation.
“Let’s see what the North Koreans do down the road. Everybody is urging them to get back to the talks,” she told reporters. “I cannot judge the motivation of the North Korean government, nobody can judge.” Rice had characterized North Korea as an “outpost of tyranny” during her confirmation hearings.
“I can’t judge the North Korean leadership’s motivation,” she said Thursday. “I told the truth and I think the chief diplomat (Rice) ought to tell the truth.”
“We are ready to return to the six-party talks,” she said. “The North Koreans should be too.”
Rice said earlier that the United States isn’t treating North Korea differently from Iran, another nation in President Bush’s famous rhetorical axis of evil.
“The message is clear: give up these aspirations for nuclear weapons and you know life can be different,” Rice said. She also said that is the same message that Libya understood in renouncing its own nuclear ambitions.
Unlike Iran, North Korea had not been a frequent topic during Rice’s breakneck tour of eight European countries and Israel over the past week. She also visited the West Bank and the Vatican.
Rice used the trip to reach out to Europe, and Europe reached back.
It is too soon to measure success, but Rice seemed pleased as she neared the end of the breakneck tour.