UNITED NATIONS – A top North Korean official said Tuesday that Pyongyang (search) would not return to talks on the nuclear crisis unless Washington takes "simultaneous action" to meet its demands, saying it makes no sense for the communist country to "put down the guns first."
North Korea has repeatedly said it is not interested in further negotiations, but Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon used his address to the U.N. General Assembly (search) to present his government's case in detail. The North tends to escalate its harsh rhetoric when it wants to extract concessions before talks.
Choe accused the United States of insisting that North Korea take "all actions first," saying this was the hostile policy of a superpower seeking to overthrow the government by force.
"Simultaneous action is a realistic way of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, and any opposition to it is tantamount to the refusal of the denuclearization," Choe warned in his address to the assembly's annual ministerial meeting.
Washington demands that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (search), known as the DPRK, must dismantle its nuclear programs first. Pyongyang says it will do so only if the United States signs a nonaggression treaty, provides economic aid and opens diplomatic ties.
"Under the present circumstance in which the DPRK and the United States are leveling guns at each other, asking the other party to put down the guns first does not make any sense," Choe said. "This can be construed only as an ulterior intention to disarm and kill the DPRK."
Richard Grenell, a spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte, said: "It's certainly typical language that we hear from the North Koreans and we're not surprised."
Choe's speech was delivered hours after a Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pyongyang told the official North Korean news agency KCNA that the country was taking "practical measures" to boost its nuclear capabilities.
The claim came as U.S. intelligence analysts have expressed increasing concern that the communist regime may have three, four or even six nuclear weapons instead of the one or two the CIA now estimates.
The current nuclear crisis began in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements. Choe appeared to question this, saying "the United States reversed black and white, alleging that the DPRK had admitted to have a secret nuclear weapons program."
The United States and its allies suspended oil shipments to the North. North Korea in turn expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, withdrew from the global nuclear arms-control treaty and said it would reactivate its main nuclear complex, frozen since 1994.
In August, officials from China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas met in Beijing to discuss the nuclear crisis, but the talks stalled over strident differences between Washington and Pyongyang.
China has been working to restart the talks. In Tokyo, officials from Japan, the United States and South Korea agreed Tuesday to work together to bring North Korea back to the bargaining table despite Pyongyang's tough rhetoric.
Choe, however, rejected the possibility of further talks.
"Since it has been proven that the United States is only interested in turning the six-party talks into a ground for completely disarming and killing the DPRK by all means instead of coexisting peacefully with the DPRK, we have been driven not to maintain any interest in or expectation on such talks," he said.
Choe said the nuclear crisis is "an outcome of the hostile policy pursued by the United States to isolate and stifle the DPRK politically, economically and militarily," citing President Bush's declaration in January 2002 that North Korea was part of an "axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq.