N.Korea rejects force-reduction plan

By JONG-HEON LEE, UPI Correspondent  |  Aug. 1, 2002 at 10:49 AM
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SEOUL, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- North Korea has rejected a U.S. offer to discuss the reduction of military forces deployed along its border with South Korea during talks between Pyongyang and Washington, South Korean officials said Thursday.

"The issue absolutely cannot be put on the agenda of discussion," said a Foreign Ministry official, quoting Pyongyang's report, which was submitted to a recent regional security forum.

"Conventional weapons are for self-defense purposes, and their reduction can be discussed only after the United States withdraws its troops from South Korea and conclude a peace treaty with the DPRK (North Korea)," the security report was quoted as saying.

The report also called for abolition of the U.S.-led U.N. Command based in Seoul and an end to Washington's "hostile and vicious policy" against North Korea, the official told United Press International on condition of anonymity.

"The most productive way to a fair solution for both sides is to have dialogue and consultation on an equal footing, apart from coercion and pressure," the report said.

The security report was submitted Wednesday to the annual Association of South East Asian Nations Regional Forum in Brunei.

The issue of heavy concentration of North Korean troops and weapons along the border with South Korea was among agenda items by President George W. Bush last year when he proposed resuming security dialogue after a policy review on North Korea. Other items in the comprehensive package of issues include North Korea's missile sales and compliance with international obligations on nuclear safeguards.

Visiting U.S. troops at the Demilitarized Zone, Bush urged North Korea in February to withdraw its conventional forces from the inter-Korean border.

But Pyongyang has criticized Bush for "unilaterally" setting the agenda, insisting talks must focus on U.S. compensation for the delayed construction of light-water reactors, which it said caused acute energy shortages in the country.

Talks between North Korea and the Clinton administration had made some progress, highlighted by a visit to Pyongyang by then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. But relations have become strained as Bush has taken a hard-line stance toward North Korea. In his State of the Union address early this year he listed North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" that posed a threat to international peace.

The North's security report was revealed shortly after the United States and North Korea agreed to reopen dialogue during a ground-breaking meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun on the sidelines of the regional security meeting. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly would visit Pyongyang soon for talks, Paek said.

Powell reaffirmed that the United States would deal the North's conventional weapons in the planned talks. Paek, however, refused to confirm whether the North would stick to the stance.

"We should wait and see until we begin dialogue with the United States," Paek said, when asked if Pyongyang would discuss the conventional arms issue when the talks resume.

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