WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Friday ruled out striking a bargain with North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons programs and sent a top State Department official on weeklong trip to discuss the crisis with leaders in five Asian countries.
North Korea agreed in 1994 to suspend the programs and "we have no intention of sitting down and bargaining again," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
North Korea has indicated it might refreeze the programs in exchange for a nonaggression treaty with the United States.
But Boucher said the administration had already assured Pyongyang it had no intention of attacking North Korea.
Responding to suggestions from South Korea's new government that compromise might be necessary to end the nuclear programs, Boucher said the administration was ready to discuss ideas with South Korea and Japan at a meeting in Washington next week.
Russia and China also want to see the programs halted and "how to achieve this is the subject of our conversations," Boucher said.
In an effort to rally support, Undersecretary of State John Bolton left Friday on a weeklong trip to Asia. He planned stops in New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, with both North Korea and Iraq on his agenda, said a U.S. official on condition of anonymity.
After the talks in Washington next Monday and Tuesday with Japanese and South Korean officials, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will fly to Seoul for further discussions. Also, Boucher announced that Bolton will go later in the month to Japan, South Korea and China for more talks.
"We are looking for a peaceful resolution," Boucher said.
In Seoul, an aide to President-elect Roh Moon-hyun said he would offer North Korea and the United States a compromise to end the nuclear standoff, charting a new diplomatic course for the longtime U.S. ally.
The aide told a television interviewer that the compromise plan would require concessions both from President Bush and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Details were not released.
The North Korean ambassador to China insisted, meanwhile, that Pyongyang would not bend until the United States agreed to a nonaggression treaty.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has ruled out a nonaggression treaty, saying it would amount to a reward for North Korea to halt its moves to build new nuclear weapons.
One idea under consideration in South Korea, the Yonhap news agency reported, is exchanging North Korea's abandonment of the nuclear program for a written guarantee of security from the United States.
But the U.S. position remains that any agreement must begin with North Korea halting its program first, a senior official said.
On Thursday, Bush took a break from his Texas vacation to rebuke North Korean leader Kim, saying he had "no heart for somebody who starves his folks."
Still, Bush said anew he was confident a peaceful conclusion can be reached in the nuclear standoff on the Korean peninsula.
During Roh's successful presidential campaign, he told the South Korean people he intended to correct relations with Washington in a way that gave South Korea a larger role.
Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is due to fly to Seoul next week to talk to the new government about the relationship and North Korea.
In Seoul on Friday, the head of Roh's transition team, Lim Chae-jung, said both Bush and Kim would need to make concessions.
"The president-elect plans to present his own solution around the middle of this month," Lim said.
Roh, who will call on Bush shortly after his Feb. 25 inauguration, is taking "a very cautious approach" because it is "a matter that affects the destiny of our people," Lim said.