WASHINGTON – The Bush administration on Tuesday dismissed North Korea's (search) demand for civilian nuclear reactors and appeared confident about a final agreement to end that nation's nuclear weapons program (search).
Still, the United States and South Korea (search) 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.
"We are going to get this done," U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill told The Associated Press in an interview. He stressed that North Korea must agree to international restraints before its demand can be considered seriously.
In New York, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "we will not get hung up" on the North Korean demand.
"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 to which the North Koreans signed on."
Rice discussed North Korea during a meeting later Tuesday with her Chinese counterpart.
"Both agreed that the next round of six-party talks should focus on issues related to the North's dismantlement of its nuclear programs and the verification of that dismantlement," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "They both agreed that the agreement signed in Beijing by the six parties was the binding text for parties, including on the question of light water reactors."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan, 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," he said.
Bush spoke by telephone with 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 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 nuclear 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 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.
Freedom House, a private group that champions democracy around the world, welcomed the agreement but its executive director, Jennifer Windsor, said there was a risk that international interest in promoting human rights would fall by the wayside.
"If North Korea truly wishes to join the community of nations and if its negotiating partners truly wish for a peaceful region, the country's egregious human rights record must be at the focus of serious discussions," she said in a statement.