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N. Korea 'rejects nuclear talks'


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BEIJING, China -- North Korea is not ready to return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks and does not want a direct meeting with the United States, an unnamed North Korean foreign ministry spokesman has been quoted as saying.

Pyongyang "has no justification to take bilateral talks ... on the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula with the United States now," China's official Xinhua news agency quoted the official as saying, according to The Associated Press.

The spokesman said Pyongyang was unwilling to hold direct talks with Washington or join the six-party talks because of the "hostile" U.S. policy toward North Korea and its persistence in trying to topple North Korea's regime, AP reported Xinhua as saying.

Earlier, North Korea's U.N. envoy told a South Korean newspaper Pyongyang would return to six-party talks if Washington pledged to stay out of North Korea's "domestic affairs" -- a prospect that could lead to the two nations becoming "friends."

Last week, North Korea said it had no intention of returning to the negotiating table and declared that the nation already had nuclear weapons and was prepared to build more.

That statement was met by strong comments in Washington, which has refused to offer concessions to North Korea and has rejected previous calls by Pyongyang for direct talks with the United States.

Meanwhile, Wang Giarui, a senior Chinese government official, left Beijing for Pyongyang Saturday for weekend talks aimed at trying to get North Korea back to the six-party talks.

The Foreign Ministry had announced the trip earlier in the week.

In his comments to South Korea's JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, Deputy Ambassador Han Song-ryol said North Korea has "not changed our principle of de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, but we also need a reason to return to the talks."

"If the U.S. promises coexistence and non-interference in North Korea's domestic affairs, and they can guarantee concrete results from the negotiations, then we are ready to participate in any type of talks, including the six-party talks," Han said in a phone interview with the paper.

"We have backed ourselves against the water with this statement. But if the U.S. takes back its hostile policies, then we can give up our anti-American stance and we can become friends. And then why would we need nuclear weapons?"

The United States had no immediate response.

Earlier in the day, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States was engaged in consultation with its other partners in the six-party talks, including Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will hold talks Saturday with their Japanese counterparts at the State Department.

Boucher said the talks will allow the two nations "to go into somewhat more detail about the current situation."

"I'm sure the subject of North Korea was going to come up," he said.

Earlier this week, CIA Director Porter Goss told a Senate intelligence panel that North Korea's nuclear weapons arsenal has grown since it was labeled as part of an "axis of evil" by U.S. President George W. Bush three years ago.

"Our assessment is they have a greater capability than that assessment," Goss said, referring to a January 2002 CIA assessment of North Korea's nuclear program, which stated the communist state had produced enough plutonium for one or two nuclear weapons.

"In other words, it has increased since then."

Bush labeled North Korea, Iran and Iraq an "axis of evil" in his January 29, 2002, State of the Union address.


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