North Korea Hints It Could Accept Multilateral Nuclear Talks

The North’s state-run KCNA news agency quoted a Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying, ”If the U.S. is ready to make a bold switchover in its Korea policy for a settlement of the nuclear issue, the DPRK [North Korea] will not stick to any particular dialogue format.”

“It is possible to solve this issue if the U.S. sincerely approaches the dialogue,” the statement said. “The solution to the issue depends on what is the real intention of the U.S.”

The spokesman did not specify what he meant by “bold switchover,” news agencies report, although North Korea has demanded energy and humanitarian aid, as well as security guarantees, in the past.

The statement said the North’s insistence on direct talks was “aimed to confirm whether the U.S. has a political willingness to drop its hostile policy toward the DPRK or not.”

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the U.S. would “follow up” on the statement.

“We noted the statement with interest, and we expect to follow up through appropriate diplomatic channels,” Reeker said.

South Korean officials, meanwhile, said they hoped the statement signaled a change in North Korea’s diplomatic direction on the nuclear matter.

“I hope we can understand North Korea’s comments as part of the recent gestures shown by North Korea to take a more positive stance toward the international community’s initiatives to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue peacefully,” Lee Jihyun, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun’s foreign media spokeswoman, told Reuters.

North Korea and the U.S. have been at loggerheads since last October, when the U.S. said North Korea admitted it had been developing a secret nuclear program, a move Washington said violated a 1994 pledge Pyongyang made to renounce nuclear arms in exchange for U.S. aid. The North denies making such an admission.

Since then, North Korea — a nation President Bush characterized as part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and Ira — has thrown out nuclear monitors from the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency and has restarted a five-megawatt reactor at its main nuclear research facility.

The IAEA referred the North Korea matter to the U.N. Security Council, whose members on Wednesday “expressed concern” about the conflict, Ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser of Mexico told reporters. However, the body failed to agree on a statement condemning Pyongyang’s alleged nuclear ambitions.

However, in its statement Saturday, the North warned against attempts to “internationalize” the issue, saying the outcome of the Security Council meeting “indicated that the nuclear issue is a matter to be settled between the DPRK and the U.S.”

“There is no ground whatsoever to internationalize the nuclear issue and any attempt to do so would make its solution quite impossible,” the statement said.