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(2nd LD) Clinton says she will not talk to N. Koreans at ARF

All Headlines 06:54 July 22, 2009

(ATTN: ADDS senior official's comment in paras 18-20)
By Hwang Doo-hyong

WASHINGTON, July 21 (Yonhap) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that she will not meet this week with North Korean officials on the sidelines of a regional security forum in Phuket, Thailand, instead urging North Korea to return to the six-party talks on ending its nuclear programs.

"We really don't have any intention of talking to them, at least I don't, because what we are interested in is North Korea coming back to the table and continuing the negotiation that will lead to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula," Clinton said in an interview with the Fox News Channel. "We've made that abundantly clear over and over again."

The North Korean delegation flew into the Thai resort island earlier in the day to attend the two-day ASEAN Regional Forum, a meeting of foreign ministers held each year by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. One of the North Korean delegates reportedly told journalists aboard the flight that a meeting with U.S. officials "depends on the situation."

Despite Clinton's remarks, speculation still lingers over the possibility of North Korea's head delegate, Ambassador Pak Kun-gwang, meeting with Clinton one-on-one at the behest of host nation Thailand or China, which hosts the six-party talks.

The ARF has often served as the venue for high-level contacts between North Korea and the U.S.

North Korean Foreign Minister Paik Nam-sun had an impromptu meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Jakarta in 2004 to reinvigorate the six-way talks and pave the way for a six-party denuclearization deal signed a year later.

North Korea this time sent Ambassador Pak, a vice foreign minister-level official, to Phuket, to the dismay of officials in Beijing and Bangkok, who wanted North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun to attend to meet with Clinton for a possible breakthrough in the nuclear negotiations.

Kim Yong-nam, North Korea's ceremonial head of state and concurrently president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, said last week that the six-party talks "came to a permanent end" because the U.S. and others refused to respect North Korea's "sovereign rights."

Pyongyang's stance has been to scrap the talks unless the United Nations apologizes for the sanctions imposed on the North for its nuclear and missile tests.

Under U.N. Resolution 1874, adopted in early June after North Korea's second nuclear test on May 25, the U.N. Security Council slapped fresh sanctions on North Korea last week by listing five North Korean officials and as many North Korean firms subject to a travel ban and asset freeze for their involvement in nuclear and missile development programs.

The resolution also bans the North from any further nuclear and ballistic missile tests and imposes financial sanctions, an overall arms embargo and cargo interdictions to head off the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction by the North.

Clinton told Fox News that the Obama administration is ready to "have a different relationship with North Korea, but it is conditioned on their willingness to give up nuclear weapons. And they have not yet agreed to do that."

She said she will meet with her counterparts from South Korea, China, Japan and Russia in Phuket to discuss ways to coax the North back to the table.

"But I do not have any plans to talk to the North Koreans," she said. "They know where we stand, and they know what we expect."

Clinton last week called for patience in dealing with North Korea, saying it "takes time and patience; it also takes persistence."

She also said Monday that North Korea's strategy to gain attention with provocations will not pay off.

"We weren't going to give the North Koreans the satisfaction they were looking for, which is to try to elevate them again to center stage," she said.

A senior U.S. official accompanying Clinton to Phuket, meanwhile, warned of a "stark choice" for North Korea unless the North moves toward denuclearization, according to Reuters.

"We would like to paint a picture for North Korea of a very stark choice," the official said, asking anonymity. "If they continue on the current path, it's a path that leads to greater tensions in northeast Asia, more isolation, more steps aimed at the regime."

The official's remarks follow those of Kurt Campbell, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, who said Monday in Seoul that the U.S. is preparing a "comprehensive package" for the North if Pyongyang takes "irreversible" steps toward denuclearization.

Earlier in the day in Bangkok, Clinton expressed "growing concerns" over "military cooperation between North Korea and Burma, which we take very seriously." At stake is the possible transfer of nuclear and missile technology to Burma, or Myanmar.

A North Korean cargo ship, possibly on its way to Myanmar, returned home recently after a pursuit by U.S. Navy vessels operating under an interdiction mandate imposed recently by the U.N. Security Council.

On the allegations of continued exchanges of nuclear technology between North Korea and Pakistan, Clinton told the Fox News Channel, "We have no evidence of that."

The top U.S. diplomat, however, added, "This is something that would obviously be of grave concern to us. We've raised it with our counterparts in Pakistan."

A.Q. Khan, a prominent Pakistani nuclear scientist, is suspected to have provided uranium-based nuclear technology to North Korea in exchange for missile technology.

He was released earlier this year after having been under house arrest since 2004 for his alleged role in providing nuclear technology to North Korea and other countries. He recently disavowed earlier remarks confessing to having played a part in the development of North Korea's nuclear program.

Clinton warned against any continued military cooperation between North Korea and Pakistan.

"This is not in Pakistan's interest at all for many reasons," she said. "So we have no evidence, and we are very vigilant about keeping an eye on that."


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