North Korea Calls Another Good Bluff

NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr says North Korea is playing a weak hand very well in the current row over its nuclear program.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Bush says he wants six party talks with North Korea to get underway again as soon as possible. North Korea has agreed to return to the talks. In an interview with wire service reporters today, the president said that he was sending a pair of State Department officials to Asia. They'll talk strategy with American allies and work to make sure that U.N. sanctions are being implemented.

NPR's senior analyst, Daniel Schorr, says he's been impressed with how North Korea has handled the current situation.

DANIEL SCHORR: One must admire the clever way an economically feeble and diplomatically isolated North Korea has played its nuclear hand. President Bush has made a point of refusing prestige raising direct talks with the Pyongyang government, insisting on a return to the six party negotiations that North Korea quit a year ago.

Since that time, North Korea has tested a nuclear device and several missiles. Now, the Chinese media have revealed that under Beijing's auspices, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill has met with his North Korean opposite number without public announcement to discuss the terms for resuming the talks on Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

It is not known what conditions North Korea may have set, but it is known that for the past year, North Korea has been demanding as a condition for returning to negotiations that the U.S. Treasury ease the restrictions it has placed on a bank in the Macao enclave of China for helping to launder money gained from drug smuggling and passing counterfeit hundred dollar bills. Hill has reportedly said that the Macao matter was discussed as part of the nuclear talks.

The North Korean government said today that it's returning to the bargaining table expecting to gain access to its frozen bank accounts. The date for resuming the six party talks in Beijing will reportedly be set for sometime in January, and North Korea appears to be demanding an easing of financial restrictions as a condition for even talking about its nuclear arsenal.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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