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Rice says ‘jury is out’ on N. Korea’s intentions

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that North Korea so far has not demonstrated that it is serious about complying with an international agreement to drop its nuclear weapons program.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says North Korea has not followed through on promises to drop its nuclear weapons program and needs to bring “a different attitude” to the next round of international talks.

North Korea agreed in September to dismantle its existing nuclear weapons and renounce new ones, in exchange for a package of economic incentives and diplomatic assurances. Since then, however, the secretive communist regime has seemed to pull back from those pledges.

“I think the jury is out on whether the North Koreans are ... prepared to do what they need to do, which is to get serious,” Rice told reporters Wednesday after meetings with other members of a six-way international negotiating team on North Korea.

A disappointing round of talks ended last week without progress toward details of how to dismantle existing weapons and verify that the country has really ended all suspicious programs.

“The round that just ended did not have the kind of engagement from the North Koreans on that issue that we might have expected,” Rice said.

Talks to resume soon?
South Korea’s foreign minister said Tuesday that talks with the North would resume in January, although Rice said there is no firm date.

When they do return to discussions with South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, “the North Koreans need to have a different attitude, and a different approach,” Rice said.

The top U.S. diplomat is in South Korea for the annual forum of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, as were representatives for the other five countries involved in the nuclear talks with North Korea.

Iran nuclear situation discussed
On a separate nuclear issue, Rice said she discussed the situation in Iran with her counterparts from Russia and China. Those nations are both Iranian allies and members of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency’s board.

The board meets later this month to consider what the United States claims is Iran’s record of deceit over its nuclear program. The board could vote to send Iran’s case before the powerful U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

“We will do a referral at a time of our choosing,” Rice said. “I think we’ve got the votes at any time.”

The United States and European allies claim Iran is hiding ambitions for nuclear weapons behind a legitimate program to develop nuclear energy. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, and demands an international treaty right to control civilian nuclear technology.

Iran’s new hardline government rejected a package of economic and trade incentives offered by European nations last summer. New diplomatic overtures are in the works to avert a vote.

On North Korea, China is hosting the six-way disarmament talks.

The North is insisting on receiving aid in stages as it dismantles its nuclear programs, while Washington refuses to reward Pyongyang until that goal is achieved. The North also irked Rice and others by claiming what they say is premature victory on a symbolically important point — a right to operate a civilian nuclear energy reactor.

North Korea on Saturday stood by its demand for aid in exchange for shutting down a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor, saying it won’t act until Washington offers concessions.

“As we have to follow the ’action-for-action’ principle, we will act if action is made,” the North’s envoy to six-nation disarmament talks, said Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan. “We will never move first.”

Kim didn’t say what concessions the North wanted.