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N. Korea Demands U.S. Apology

The main U.S. envoy on North Korea (search) dismissed Pyongyang's demand Friday for a U.S. apology before it would return to nuclear talks, and the North said it would convene its rubber-stamp parliament expected to endorse a boycott of the discussions.

A senior North Korean diplomat reaffirmed that his nation would abstain from talks until the United States apologizes for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's (search) labeling the North as one of the world's "outposts of tyranny."`

In a sign that Pyongyang may stick with its policy of shunning the talks, North Korea's official news agency said that a session of the country's parliament, the Supreme People's Assembly, would meet April 11.

The North originally said it would convene the meeting in early March, after its bold Feb. 10 statement that it had nuclear weapons and would indefinitely boycott the nuclear disarmament talks. A week before the meeting, it postponed the session without explanation.

In a lecture at Seoul National University, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill said the North's latest statement "was not helpful."

"Serious problems should not be dealt with ... sarcastic statements," said Hill, who has been named U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Hill urged North Korea to "stop with these silly press announcements," and said they should bring their concerns to the arms talks.

China, the remaining key ally of North Korea, has hosted three rounds of the inconclusive talks since 2003 aimed at convincing the North to abandon its nuclear weapons ambition

On Thursday, North Korea said it wanted to be treated as an equal at the six-nation disarmament talks, now that it claims to have nuclear weapons. It also urged the United States to verifiably remove all potential nuclear threats in the region.

Pyongyang also said it is waiting for the United States apologize over Rice's remark.

She has refused to apologize, but during a trip to the region last month, she pointedly labeled North Korea a "sovereign" country -- a comment many saw as an attempt to soften her earlier statement.

Han Song-ryol, deputy chief of North Korea's mission to the U.N., said Pyongyang felt Rice's recent comment "cannot be taken as being equivalent to an apology."

"To reopen the talks, there should be the right justification and conditions," South Korea's Yonhap News Agency quoted Han as saying. "That is a clear apology from the U.S. for the outpost of tyranny remarks."

Han said the North's statement Thursday was meant to highlight Pyongyang's view that the latest crisis stems from a perceived U.S. nuclear threat. Washington has said it has withdrawn all nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

"It depends on the U.S. whether the six-party talks resume or not," he said. "But, I don't think the U.S. will drop its hostile policy."

Meanwhile, North Korea's No. 2 leader Kim Yong Nam on Friday received a Chinese delegation in Pyongyang headed by the vice chairman of the Communist Party's disciplinary committee, Ma Wen, and they had a "friendly talk," the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported.

Other countries in the talks, including the United States and South Korea, have urged Beijing to use its leverage over its communist ally to urge it to return to negotiations. China has argued it doesn't have as much influence as others believe.