WASHINGTON – The Bush administration has opened the door to dialogue with North Korea and is waiting for a response from Pyongyang.
The offer to talk is unconditional, but the administration is standing by its position that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons programs.
"We are not going to pay again for North Korea to live up to its obligations," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tuesday. He referred to a pledge North Korea took in 1994 to freeze the programs in exchange for fuel oil and two light water reactors, a deal financed mostly by Japan and South Korea.
Still, the hard line the administration had taken toward an increasingly bellicose Pyongyang eased with the offer of a dialogue.
"If the North Koreans are prepared to reverse course and stop their aggressive pursuit of greater nuclear weapons capabilities, they know how to reach members of the international community," said Sean McCormack, spokesman for President Bush's National Security Council. "We are prepared to listen."
Boucher said, "It's an unconditional offer to talk to North Korea about how it can meet its international obligations."
Among them is an accord with South Korea that the Korean peninsula would be kept free of nuclear weapons.
"We will obviously be looking to see how North Korea responds and what they say, either in private or in public, what they are willing to do," Boucher said.
The U.S. offer was included in a statement issued jointly with South Korea and Japan after two days of meetings at the State Department. A copy of the joint communiqué was sent to the North Korean mission to the United Nations.
South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-Sik said the participants in the talks agreed that North Korea should take the first step by giving up its nuclear weapons program. "Only after this can we imagine serious discussions or dialogue taking place," Lee said.
He said the United States, Japan and South Korea did not set a timetable for North Korean action, "but the situation is getting worse and worse and we all have to assume not much time is left." South Korea would continue its contacts with North Korea to stress the importance of resolving the problem, he said.
The offer of dialogue was backed by Bush, who again offered assurances in a Chicago speech that "we have no aggressive intentions, no argument with the North Korean people. We're interested in peace in the Korean peninsula."
North Korea has demanded a nonaggression treaty with the United States.
In Pyongyang on Tuesday, thousands of North Koreans rallied in support of a stronger military. And the government said U.S. economic sanctions would lead to war.
The joint statement in Washington said Japan's and South Korea's dialogues with North Korea "serve as important channels to resolve issues of bilateral concern."
There was no mention in the statement of a South Korean proposal that the United States assure North Korea's security in exchange for freezing the nuclear weapons program.
"There is no security rationale for North Korea to possess nuclear weapons," the statement said.