SINGAPORE // The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today after talks with North Korea that she believed Pyongyang was under no "illusions" it had to agree to a strong mechanism to verify its nuclear activities. Yesterday, Ms Rice joined ministers from South Korea, Russia, China and Japan in rare, "informal" talks with North Korean's foreign minister Pak Ui-chun on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian forum.
"I don't think the North Koreans left with any illusions about the fact that the ball is in their court and that everybody believes they have got to respond and respond positively on verification," Ms Rice told reporters. She said yesterday's meeting ? the first time a US foreign minister has sat down with the North Koreans since 2004 ? delivered a strong message that Pyongyang must quickly agree to the so-called verification protocol circulated earlier this month among the six parties.
Yesterday's meeting has set the stage for a formal negotiating session when the ministers next meet in Beijing, China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi said. No date has been set for those talks, which previously had been at the envoy level. In late June, the North presented a long-delayed account of its nuclear weapons programme that contained information on its plutonium production. Ms Rice said the declaration left open a lot of questions that needed to be answered with a strong verification mechanism. The declaration also did little to address US suspicions of a secret uranium enrichment programme.
"Nobody is going to trust the North Korean number they have given on plutonium they made. Fortunately, there are very good tried and true internationally-recognised methods to verify the number of kilograms of plutonium made," she said. "This will have to be specific, it will have to have specific measures, it will have to have means for access and it will also have to have means to continue this process as new information becomes available," she added.
"We have to have a protocol that allows us to know what has happened there and is still happening," said Ms Rice. Tomorrow the US North Korea negotiator Christopher Hill plans to visit the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to discuss the North Korea dossier and how the UN nuclear watchdog can be involved. After North Korea delivered its long-delayed accounting of nuclear activities last month, President George W Bush responded by beginning a 45-day process to remove Pyongyang from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
North Korea said the United States had to withdraw its "hostile policy" for the agreement to succeed. "Pak Ui-chun met Rice and told her that if America responds well, every problem will be solved," the North Korean delegation's spokesman Ri Dong-il told reporters today. North Korea's official news agency KCNA was more blunt about what it saw as an aggressive US military stance, pointing to the possible deployment of a new US navy ship based in Japan.
"The ill-boding military moves clearly prove that the US imperialists' loudmouthed 'dialogue' and 'peace' are nothing but sheer sophism to hide their bellicose nature," KCNA said. If removed from the US terrorism list, the communist state will see an end to sanctions that have mostly cut it off from international banking and clear the way for multilateral aid packages. Asked whether the 45-day notification period to the US Congress could be changed if North Korea did not agree on the verification procedures in time, Ms Rice pointed out that the 45-day time period was the minimum required.
"We are watching very carefully to see whether or not North Korea is going to come through on the essential issue of verification," Ms Rice said. "We will have to know about the prospects for verifying this declaration because, the (US) president has made very clear that we will take that into account before we make any decisions," she said. *Reuters