North Korea refuses talks with US arms envoy after criticism


NORTH KOREA: North Korea said yesterday it would go ahead with six-way talks to resolve a crisis over its nuclear ambitions, but would refuse any dialogue with a US arms control envoy after his criticism of the country and its leader.

In a speech on Thursday, US Undersecretary of State Mr John Bolton said life in the communist country was a "hellish nightmare", and accused leader Mr Kim Jong-il of living like royalty while keeping hundreds of thousands in prison camps and millions more mired in poverty.

Analysts said North Korea's decision not to pull out of the talks in spite of the criticism showed that the reclusive country had few options left.

"If the six-way talks don't take place, then what's left are a tougher US stance and the United Nations Security Council," said Mr Yu Suk-ryul, a North Korea expert at South Korea's Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

Mr Kim Jong-il was in the news again yesterday, with official media reporting that he ran unopposed for a seat in North Korea's rubber-stamp legislature, the Supreme People's Assembly.

Reporting on the first general election the Stalinist state has staged for more than five years, the KCNA news agency said 96.4 per cent of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 2 p.m.

North Korea said on Saturday that any move by the US to take the crisis to the UN Security Council would derail the planned talks and could lead to war.

North Korea and the US said on Friday they had agreed to hold six-way talks on the nuclear stand-off. China, Japan, Russia and South Korea will also attend.

Pyongyang previously insisted on bilateral talks with the US. Washington had rejected that option, demanding North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons programmes first.

In a related development, a Japanese newspaper reported that the US and Japan were considering forming a multinational inspection team to try to ensure that North Korea abandons those programmes completely.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, quoting US and Japanese government sources, said the idea was for the inspection team to work independently of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

North Korea signalled its continued desire for talks in a KCNA report.

"There is no change in our stand on holding the six-party talks including the bilateral talks between the DPRK [North Korea\] and the US for the peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula," KCNA quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying.

KCNA reports are known for their rhetorical style. The latest report spoke of Mr Bolton's "political vulgarity and psychopathological condition", and said North Korea would not deal with him or consider him an official of the US administration.

Mr Bolton has called for the Security Council to take "appropriate and timely action" to send a signal to the world that it took the North Korean crisis seriously.

Mr Yu, the Seoul-based analyst, said that Pyongyang appeared to be optimistic that it would achieve the hoped-for one-on-one meetings with some US officials during the six-way talks.