North Korea Refuses to Resume Talks With U.S.

North Korea has continued to reject U.S. offers to resume bilateral discussions, which could include nuclear, missile, and conventional weapons issues.

At a July 26 press conference in Hanoi, Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed a willingness to resume discussions quickly with North Korea on the “broad agenda” laid out by President George W. Bush in June. At that time, Bush controversially called for bilateral talks that would link progress on nuclear and missile issues to a “less threatening” North Korean conventional military presence on the Korean Peninsula. Powell emphasized a U.S. willingness to “meet any time and any place” to “talk about anything.”

Despite this and other U.S. invitations to the negotiating table, Pyongyang has not engaged Washington. In a rare interview, published July 26 by the Russian Itar-Tass news agency, North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il said that the Bush administration is “committed to a policy of isolation and suppression of North Korea.” Kim, who was about to embark on a state trip to Russia, also bristled at Washington’s desire to discuss North Korea’s conventional weapons, saying Bush had issued “a new impudent challenge” by raising the issue.

In spite of these remarks, during an August 4 meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kim reportedly reaffirmed a May 2001 pledge to maintain a moratorium on ballistic missile flight tests until at least 2003.

U.S.-North Korean relations have soured since March, when Bush placed missile negotiations with North Korea on hold, pending the outcome of a policy review, and said he was “skeptical” of Kim. The president also questioned whether Pyongyang was abiding by all of its international agreements.

In an August 11 interview with South Korea’s Chungang Ilbo during a trip to Asia, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that Bush had privately expressed regret for the way his administration had initially handled policy toward Pyongyang. Biden said that, after a meeting with the president, he felt Bush “was clearly aware” that his March comments about Kim were “a blunder” and that the president never intended to disrupt relations.