TOKYO – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) rejected on Saturday a North Korean demand that the United States meet certain conditions before the communist country would agree to take part in a new round of six-country discussions on its nuclear weapons program. "My view is that all of the issues that they laid out as conditions are subject to discussions at the six-party talks," Powell said.
"This is a six-party discussion, not a U.S.-North Korea discussion or an exchange of U.S. and North Korean talking points," Powell told reporters while traveling to Japan for talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other officials. Powell also plans stops in China (search) and South Korea.
Before Powell's arrival in Tokyo, just minutes after a large earthquake struck northwestern Japan, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman indicated that Pyongyang (search) would agree to a new round of discussions only if the United States drops its "hostile policy" and consents to a "reward" for the North in exchange for a nuclear freeze it is proposing.
The spokesman was quoted by Pyongyang's official KCNA news agency. He was not identified by name.
He also said North Korea is insisting on discussing recent disclosures by South Korea that scientists had carried out nuclear experiments involving plutonium and uranium years ago. The Bush administration has dismissed the experiments as insignificant and said they were of an academic nature.
The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia have held three rounds of nuclear talks with North Korea. A new session was to have taken place in September in Beijing but North Korea declined to attend. The United States is seeking the complete nuclear disarmament of North Korea.
Powell has been looking for ways to revive the six-party talks but administration officials believe North Korea wants to hold off until after the U.S. presidential elections on the assumption that Sen. John Kerry, if he is elected, will be easier to deal with than President Bush.
Kerry supports direct U.S. talks with North Korea, similar to a strategy pursued by President Clinton.
Powell said recently that he told North Korean diplomats in June that they shouldn't base their dealings with the United States on the assumption Kerry will win.
North Korean concerns about a hostile U.S. policy, Powell said Saturday, were baseless.
"We have no intention of invading them, no plans to attack," he said.
He noted that Bush has promised food and energy assistance to North Korea once the country has demonstrated a commitment to disarm. Japan and South Korea would provide assistance at an earlier stage of the process.
North Korea has said it has several nuclear weapons. It does not accept U.S. claims that it has secret uranium-based program that also is designed to produce nuclear weapons.