US says 'bar higher' for dialogue with N. Korea
The United States says North Korea's recent actions have risen the bar for a resumption of dialogue, and it called on Pyongyang to address concerns on weapons but also human rights.
North Korea engaged in some of its most fiery rhetoric in years after conducting its third nuclear test in February, but tensions have since eased with attempts - ultimately unsuccessful - to restart talks with South Korea.
Glyn Davies, the US State Department's special representative for North Korea policy, said Washington was exasperated with Pyongyang after it snubbed attempts by President Barack Obama's administration to reach out in 2009 and again in 2012.
"The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state. We will not reward the DPRK for the absence of bad behaviour," Davies said, using the official name of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"Nor will we tolerate North Korea provoking its neighbours. These positions will not change," he said in Washington.
Davies repeated US calls on North Korea to take steps to end its nuclear-weapons programme in line with previous agreements - and said that this year's crisis increased Washington's hesitancy to engage again.
"We've long made clear that we are open to improved relations with the DPRK if it is willing to take concrete actions to live up to its international obligations and commitments - though given the events of this past year, the bar for a resumption of meaningful engagement is now certainly higher."
Davies also voiced concern over human rights.
Advocacy groups have long accused the United States and its allies of putting its focus solely on North Korea's nuclear weapons and ignoring a totalitarian system often considered the world's most draconian.
"US-DPRK relations cannot fundamentally improve without sustained improvement in inter-Korean relations and human rights," Davies said.
Frank Jannuzi, the head of Amnesty International's Washington office, applauded Davies for taking a "more holistic approach" to North Korea.
"The bottom line is that 20 years of diplomacy focused on plutonium have not gotten the results that the United States wants," he said.
"Amnesty International believes that a policy focused more on people and less on plutonium will serve both objectives - denuclearisation and peace."
The United Nations Human Rights Council agreed in March to set up a commission of inquiry to see if violations in North Korea amounted to crimes against humanity, a move led by Japan and the European Union.
Davies said the US wanted to co-ordinate with South Korea and Japan as well as other nations including China, North Korea's closest ally, which has been unusually vocal in recent criticism of Kim Jong-un's regime.
The State Department said Davies would meet on Wednesday in Washington on North Korea policy with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea.