WASHINGTON (CNN) -- North Korea is unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons before President Bush leaves office, a U.S. official said Thursday.
U.S. envoy Jay Lefkowitz has said human rights must be a component of disarmament talks.
"North Korea is not serious about disarming in a timely manner," Jay Lefkowitz, the president's envoy on North Korean human rights, told an audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
"It is increasingly likely that North Korea will have the same nuclear status one year from now that it has today."
Lefkowitz's comments are at odds with Bush administration statements, which tout a recent agreement by North Korea at the six-party talks to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and better relations with the United States as one of its few foreign policy successes.
He criticized China and South Korea -- U.S. partners in the talks along with Russia and North Korea -- for not doing enough to push Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program because of their own bilateral relationships with the North.
The United States "assumed that both countries shared our strong desire that North Korea not be permitted to possess a nuclear program and arsenal," Lefkowitz said. "This may have been a misguided assumption."
In response to Lefkowitz's comments, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said in a statement.
"Under agreements reached in the six-party process, North Korea has committed to declare all its nuclear programs and to disable the three key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon as an initial step toward eventually abandoning all its nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs.
"While it's unfortunate that North Korea has not yet provided a complete and correct declaration, we continue to work with Japan, South Korea, China and Russia in urging North Korea to fulfill its commitments in this regard. We believe the Six-Party framework gives the region and the world the best opportunity to realize the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula."
Lefkowitz said the United States needs to rethink its approach to North Korea to one that links concerns about security with North Korea's poor human rights record, making improvement on both fronts a condition of better relations with the United States.
Dubbed "constructive engagement," such an approach would ensure human rights "cannot be discarded in any future rush to "get to yes" in an agreement, he said.
"The way the North Korean government treats its own people is inhumane and therefore deeply offensive to us," Lefkowitz said. "It should also offend free people around the world. Clearly we want to see an improvement in this, just as we want to see an abatement of the threats to our security created by the regime."
The six-party talks do not address North Korea's human rights record but, Lefkowitz said, "there is a valid question of whether this continues to make sense."
He said the United States should also consider expanding its bilateral contacts with North Korea to discuss such issues, but should also consider "other leverage" against the nation if it doesn't improve, including restricting the regime's access to United States and international financial systems.
"We strongly support efforts to increase awareness and promote efforts to improve the human rights of the long-suffering North Korean people. The president has been consistent in reminding the international community of the importance of North Korean human rights issues including through meetings with North Korean refugees and dissidents," Perino said. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Kathleen Koch contributed to this report
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