A senior American official described North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, as a tyrannical dictator yesterday and said his threat to proliferate nuclear weapons would not weaken international resolve to halt his atomic ambitions.
In a speech at the East Asia Institute in Seoul, South Korea, John Bolton, the US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, said Kim Jong Il lived like royalty while jailing thousands and keeping many hungry in a "hellish nightmare". His words are likely to provoke a blistering response. "The days of [North Korean] blackmail are over," Mr Bolton said in his speech. "Kim Jong Il is dead wrong to think that developing nuclear weapons will improve his security."
The American official mentioned the leader's name about 40 times and said that he was one of the world's "tyrannical rogue state leaders".
The comments come at a delicate time. The US Secretary, of State, Colin Powell, said in Washington on Wednesday that there was a "distinct possibility" of talks this year. Japan's Kyodo news agency said the US, China and North Korea were discussing possible three-way talks in September.
Mr Bolton declined to comment on this at a news conference butsaid earlier that it was up to North Korea to respond to an American proposal on the format of talks. The Russian Foreign Ministry said yesterday that Pak Ui Chun, North Korea's ambassador to Moscow, had told it that Pyongyang now favoured six-sided talks, including Russia, to resolve the nuclear dispute. The ministry said the envoy made the offer to Yuri Fedotov, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister. It did not list the countries but they appeared to be North and South Korea, China, Japan, the US and Russia.
North Korea is edging towards talks but has demanded Washington drop its "hostile policy". It had hitherto called for direct talks with Washington, a line Mr Bolton called a "one-note piano concerto".