US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday told North Korea to stop being provocative and return to talks on ending efforts to build a nuclear arsenal.
Clinton, who referred to the “tyranny” of the North, said Pyongyang could not expect to improve ties with Washington if it kept insulting its ally South Korea.
“The most immediate issue is to continue the disablement of their nuclear facilities and to get a complete and verifiable agreement as to the end of their nuclear programme,” she told a news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.
The talks between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States on the North’s nuclear ambitions have all but ground to a halt, most recently stuck on Pyongyang’s refusal to allow nuclear material to be taken abroad for tests.
Since taking office, Clinton has offered North Korea normal relations, massive aid and a peace treaty to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War once it gives up its nuclear ambitions, seen as one of the biggest threats to security in the region.
But on Friday she said the isolated state had to end its increasingly furious rhetoric. This week it has threatened to go to war with the South and accused the United States of planning a nuclear strike on it.
It is also thought to be preparing the launch of a missile with the potential to reach US territory.
“North Korea is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with (South Korea),” Clinton said.
She called the sabre-rattling “provocative” and “unhelpful,” praising the South Korean government for its restraint.
“(South) Korea’s achievement of democracy and prosperity stands in stark contrast to the tyranny and poverty across the border to the North,” Clinton said.
North Korea, which several analysts say is facing another serious food shortage, has turned on the conservative government in the South which has ended years of free-flowing aid over the nuclear impasse.
But one analyst said Clinton’s relatively harsh tone could further anger Pyongyang’s leadership which may have hoped for a softer line from the new US administration.
“(This) is likely to lead it to a new round of harsher rhetoric or to a possible military provocations against South Korea,” said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the South’s Institute for National Security Strategy.
On Thursday, Clinton warned of a possible power struggle in the communist state, and the possibility of a crisis over who may succeed leader Kim Jong-il, 67, who is widely believed to have suffered a stroke last August.
Kim is thought to have largely recovered from his illness, but is believed to have a number of chronic health problems.
At Friday’s news conference, Clinton said Washington was dealing with the government in power and asked it to fulfil its nuclear agreement.
Clinton also announced her choice of Stephen Bosworth, a former US ambassador to South Korea, to be special representative for North Korea and the nuclear talks.
Clinton earlier met South Korean and US military leaders whose troops face the North’s 1.2-million-strong army, most of it positioned near the heavily fortified border that has divided the peninsula for about 60 years. There are about 28,000 US troops to support the South’s 670,000 soldiers.
Clinton also met President Lee and later in the day flies to China, the nearest North Korea has to a powerful ally.