A war of words between the United States and North Korea continued yesterday, with Washington expressing hope for imminent progress, and Pyongyang blaming it for the delay in the denuclearization process.
"Our hope is to be able to complete the second round, meaning - including a full and complete declaration from the North Koreans, and then move on as quickly as we can towards the third portion of this process, which is the actual dismantling of North Korea`s nuclear program," said U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey.
The remarks followed a lengthy Beijing visit by top U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill last week.
North Korea, on the other hand, put on a tough face, saying through its Rodong Shinmun newspaper yesterday that it "does not care about the U.S. presidential election" and that it is in "no hurry."
"Why would we hurry (in implementing the denuclearization steps) when the action-for-action principle is not being followed through," said the newspaper of the North`s ruling Korean Workers` Party.
The North was referring to the delay in its removal from Washington`s list of terrorism sponsoring states, in addition to termination of the application of the Trading with the Enemies Act.
Washington has repeatedly argued both measures will be implemented in line with North Korea`s "complete and correct" declaration of all of its nuclear programs.
Under the Feb. 13 agreement last year, the parties agreed a step-by-step denuclearization approach. At present, they remain deadlocked at the second stage, in which North Korea is to disable its main nuclear facilities and submit a declaration of its nuclear programs. The main sticking point is how to address the contentious uranium enrichment program and proliferation activities, both of which Pyongyang denies.
"I think it`s possible for the North Koreans to provide us a declaration at the time of their choosing, and certainly we would like to see that as soon as possible," Tom Casey said.
He added that according to Christopher Hill, the North Koreans have expressed an interest in having a meeting at some point in the near future. "So we`ll have to see," he said.
To the question of whether Washington is in the process of removing North Korea from the terrorism sponsoring list, Casey remained ambiguous.
"I don`t have anything that I`m trying to indicate to you that would tell you there is anything imminently in the works on that."
The U.S. Congress is planning to release an annual report on the list of states sponsoring terrorism at the end of April, but Casey explained the list would refer to last year, and would thereby be irrelevant to the current negotiations with North Korea.
North Korea, in the meantime, blamed the United States for causing the delay.
"When you look at the implementation progress on the second phase of the six-party talks, while we are faithfully fulfilling ours, the United States is far behind in implementing theirs," the Rodong Shinmun said.
"There is zero development in the United States pledge to remove us from the terrorism list and the termination of application to the Trading with the Enemies Act. The delivery of alternative energy aid is also insufficient," the newspaper said. Along with the political incentives, North Korea was also promised energy aid worth 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil. The delivery, however, has been delayed due to what South Korean officials called a "technical matter."
Calling the six-party talks a "highly sensitive political-defense matter," North Korea said, "Without a sincere and aggressive spirit and attitude to implement (the agreement), it is difficult to expect a solution to the nuclear problem of the peninsula."
But a top U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said yesterday that there has been "important progress" on the denuclearization of North Korea.
"While we have made important progress ... much work remains ahead on the road to verifiable denuclearization of the DPRK," said Ambassador Gregory Schulte before the IAEA`s board of governors. DPRK is short for the Democratic People`s Republic of Korea, North Korea`s official name.
"We are still waiting for the DPRK to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs, which was due on Dec. 31, 2007," Schulte said in his speech for the IAEA`s regular March meeting. The IAEA is working with the United States to supervise the shutdown and disablement of North Korea`s nuclear facilities.
By Lee Joo-hee