WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is dismissing North Korea's demand for civilian nuclear reactors and appears confident of a final agreement to end that nation's nuclear weapons program.
Still, the administration and South Korea foresee difficulties.
The next round of negotiations is planned for early November. In the interim, informal discussions among the six negotiating nations — the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia — are expected on the subject.
"We are going to get this done," U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill (search) told The Associated Press in an interview. He stressed that North Korea must agree to international restraints before its demand could be considered seriously.
In New York, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said "we will not get hung up" on the North Korean statement.
"We can make progress if everybody sticks to what was actually agreed to," Rice said amid meetings with foreign ministers attending the U.N. General Assembly session.
"I think we will just stick with the text of the Beijing agreement (search) to which the North Koreans signed on," she said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan (search), meanwhile, said that if North Korea needed some time to reflect on the agreement reached this week "we'll give it to them."
McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush to survey Hurricane Katrina relief efforts that the agreement spelled out the steps needed to be taken. "Once they take those steps, then we would be prepared to talk further at that time," he said.
Bush spoke by telephone to South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and they agreed that verification of North Korea's pledge to abandon its weapons program was critical, McClellan said.
Roh's office in Seoul took note of the prospect of "various difficulties" in resolving the nuclear issue and said the South Korean president told Bush he appreciated U.S. "flexibility" during the negotiations in Beijing.
State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said: "There are going to be differences. That's to be expected."
Describing North Korea's demand as remote, Ereli said, "We're not even close to going that far."
North Korea said Tuesday it would not dismantle its nuclear weapons program until the United States first provided light-water reactors.
"Life is too short to overreact to every statement coming out of Pyongyang," Hill said upon his return from the negotiations in Beijing. "It obviously was not a helpful statement. But it was not unexpected, either."
Still, Hill said North Korea's demand would be discussed at the next round, although he ruled out any such arrangement until North Korea rejoined an international treaty designed to limit the spread of technology and agreed to international supervision.
Under the tentative agreement, South Korea would provide North Korea with the energy it says it needs, Hill said.
"They know what they signed on to," Hill said. "We are not surprised by these sorts of statements. There probably will be more of them."
Asked if he was confident that the breakthrough agreement would be concluded, Hill replied, "I wouldn't have supported it if I did not think it would get done."
He noted the agreement is not with the United States alone but with North Korea's neighbors. "That means something in Asia," he said.