Rice says only an idiot would trust North Korea

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview released on Friday only an “idiot” would trust North Korea, which is why the United States is insisting on a way to check its nuclear claims.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks about David Welch, Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, at the State Department in Washington, December 18, 2008. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

A 2005 multilateral deal under which Pyongyang would abandon its nuclear programs has become snagged on Pyongyang’s refusal to spell out a protocol on how to verify its disclosures about its nuclear programs.

The sticking point appears to be North Korea’s reluctance to allow inspectors to take samples to test a declaration of its atomic program that it submitted this year as part of the aid-for-disarmament agreement.

U.S. President George W. Bush had hoped an agreement on verification with North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test in October 2006, would have opened the way to dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear arms capacity.

Speaking to a group of foreign policy experts and students on Wednesday, Rice rejected criticism from U.S. conservatives who believe the Bush administration has been too trusting of Pyongyang in recent years.

“Nobody was trusting of the North Koreans. I mean, who trusts the North Koreans? You’d have to be an idiot to trust the North Koreans,” she said in the appearance at the Council of Foreign Relations think tank, prompting laughter.

“That’s why we have a verification protocol that we are negotiating,” she added, according to a transcript released by the State Department on Friday.

Rice said the North had agreed to a verification protocol but had refused to write down some of its verbal assurances clarifying the document’s “ambiguities.”

Rice said there was still a chance to persuade Pyongyang to carry out the six-party accord struck in 2005 by the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Rice defended the negotiations, saying that as a result of them North Korea had not produced any plutonium since 2005 and had begun to disable its nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

She said it had also turned over thousands of pages of documents as well as some samples that “have led us to be more suspicious of some things that they might be doing.”

She did not appear disheartened by the current impasse.

“This is a process that still has a lot of life in it,” she said. “North Korea negotiates this way sometimes in ups and downs.”

Editing by Peter Cooney