The Bush administration is looking past a bristling statement by North Korea for a response to its offer of direct talks. Only U.S. incentives for the North to stop its nuclear weapons program are being ruled out, the White House says.
"The ball is in their court," presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer said Wednesday. "They are the ones that created this situation by reneging on agreements that they made."
But Fleischer also emphasized that Washington's offer to hold talks was unconditional and that the United States was "not ruling anything else out" apart from inducements to get the North to again freeze its nuclear weapons programs.
The administration was stepping up its consultations with Asian allies and China. President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, set up a meeting Wednesday with her South Korean counterpart, Yim Sung-joon. Beginning Sunday and lasting through Jan. 20, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly plans talks in South Korea, China, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan.
Kelly has no plans to go to North Korea, where he held talks last year, department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
From Jan. 19-25, Undersecretary of State John Bolton will visit China, South Korea and Japan.
The talks are designed to coordinate a diplomatic pressure campaign on North Korea.
On Tuesday, the United States joined with South Korea and Japan in offering a dialogue to North Korea, and Bush offered assurances he had no aggressive designs on the reclusive country.
In an interview with The Washington Post for Thursday's editions, Secretary of State Colin Powell reiterated that the United States "had no aggressive intent." But he said the North Koreans apparently want formal assurances the United States won't attack.
While North Korea did not respond directly to the offer of unconditional talks, its state-run news agency said there was "an increasing danger of a nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula" because of the United States.
It urged South Korea to join with the North "and condemn and frustrate the U.S. nuclear policy for aggression."
The State Department chose not to respond in kind to the attempt to split the United States from its ally.
"They've continued their current public invective," Boucher said. "But we don't consider this a reaction to what we said yesterday."
Boucher said North Korea usually takes some time to formulate its policies and to react. "So I wouldn't jump on this one today as being a reaction," he said.
In an interview recorded Tuesday with Public Radio International's "The World" program, Powell also took a conciliatory stance.
"We recognize that that North Korea is a country in difficult economic straits and we want to help," he said. "But in order for the international community to help they have to foreswear their efforts to develop a nuclear bomb."
At the White House, Fleischer said the U.S. offer to talk to North Korea was not an offer "to give them any inducements, when previous inducements that were given to them were disobeyed."
Fleischer said North Korea abandoned its 1994 agreement with the United States to freeze its nuclear program "and they should certainly not expect the United States to give them additional inducements to honor old agreements," he said.
The inducements given North Korea in 1994 were fuel supplies from Japan and South Korea and two light-water reactors designed to replace a reactor that was part of a nuclear weapons program.