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Tue October 21, 2003 10:37 PM ET By Martin Nesirky and Kim Kyoung-wha
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea dismissed as laughable a U.S. offer to provide multilateral security guarantees in exchange for Pyongyang ending its nuclear weapons program, saying it was not worth even considering.
In a commentary published late on Tuesday, the communist North's official KCNA news agency said Pyongyang wanted a bilateral treaty with the United States -- a reference to its desire for a non-aggression pact that Washington has ruled out.
During a Bangkok summit of Asia-Pacific leaders that ended on Tuesday, President Bush significantly shifted policy by saying he was sharing ideas on how to give North Korea security guarantees short of a non-aggression treaty. All 20 other summit leaders backed this stance.
North Korea was not present because it is not a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. But it lost little time in shooting down the idea and taking some shine off the summit.
"We have asked for the United States to stop its hostile policy and a bilateral treaty between North Korea and the United States, and not for some sort of security guarantee," said KCNA in a Korean-language commentary.
"It's laughable and doesn't deserve even any consideration that the United States gives a security guarantee on the condition that we drop our nuclear development."
The South Korean Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate comment on the North's latest remarks. Bush was en route to Bali, Indonesia. The North has a history of raising the bar ahead of talks to try to secure concessions.
South Korea and the United States joined China, Japan and Russia in an inconclusive first round of talks with North Korea on its nuclear ambitions in Beijing in late August. A second round has yet to be arranged, but diplomats expect one to be held next month or at least before the end of the year.
RODS AND RHETORIC
While Pyongyang was unleashing its latest rhetorical barrage about its nuclear deterrent, Iran agreed to accept spot inspections of its nuclear sites and to freeze uranium enrichment in what three visiting European ministers hailed as a promising start to removing doubts about Tehran's atomic intentions.
Washington and its regional allies seek similar inspections and a freeze in North Korea, which says it is further down the track than appears to be the case with Iran. Bush lumped Iran with North Korea and pre-war Iraq in an "axis of evil."
The European Union, which has taken a tough line on the North's human rights record, has diplomatic ties with Pyongyang, but limited leverage because the communist state is fixated on the United States as its chief negotiating prize.
During the summit and Bush's APEC talks, North Korea tested at least one short-range missile and leader Kim Jong-il made his first appearance in 40 days to visit a military farm.
South Korea's military stuck to their assessment that North Korea did not test-fire a second missile on Tuesday, as Japan's NHK state broadcaster had reported.
Other South Korean officials said they could not confirm a report by Yonhap news agency that quoted an unnamed government official in Seoul as saying U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials believed North Korea had processed some 2,500 of its 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods.
North Korea said on October 2 it had finished reprocessing all the rods, which can provide plutonium for bombs.
KCNA, in what it called an "indictment" of U.S. policy toward Pyongyang, said the United States was to blame for the nuclear crisis which began a year ago when Washington said the North had admitted to having a covert nuclear program. (Additional reporting by Lee Joon-woo)
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