Washington The Bush administration plans to take a tough stance in upcoming six-nation talks about the North Korean nuclear crisis, barely sweetening a position taken at the last round of negotiations six months ago that Pyongyang must agree to irreversible and verifiable dismantling of its nuclear programs and weapons, administration officials said.
Under the administration's negotiating strategy, which was broadly decided at a meeting of President Bush's senior foreign policy advisers, officials would reject North Korea's offer to freeze its nuclear facility at Yongbyon as woefully inadequate. Operations at the facility had been halted under an agreement with the Clinton administration, but North Korea restarted it last year and since then appears to have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium for a half-dozen nuclear devices.
Moreover, U.S. officials plan to stress that North Korea must also fully disclose and dismantle a separate program, identified by U.S. intelligence, to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU). Several officials said a failure by North Korea to admit to the uranium program would make it difficult to continue the negotiating rounds. "If they keep denying HEU, then we aren't going to be able to have some agreement," a senior administration official said.
The talks, scheduled to begin Feb. 25 in Beijing, come in the wake of Libya's decision to give up its banned weapons and after the confession by Pakistani metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan that he sold nuclear equipment and designs to several nations, including North Korea. The possibility that North Korea might have obtained additional nuclear material during the year of stalemate with the United States has alarmed North Korea's neighbors.
Indeed, the tough approach outlined by administration officials has caused unease among some of the other nations attending the talks, U.S. and Asian officials said. China has pressed the United States to gloss over the uranium program, not mentioning it by name but simply referring to North Korea's "nuclear programs." China has also urged other nations to emphasize the positive in their opening statements and refrain from provocative remarks.