North Korea, probably the world's most secretive and isolated nation, has offered an olive branch to the US by promising never to sell nuclear materials to terrorists, calling for Washington's friendship and saying it does not want to suffer the fate of Iraq.
Senior members of the communist regime have spelt out proposals for solving the simmering crisis over their nuclear weapons programmes in an unusually frank series of interviews with Selig Harrison, the Washington-based Korean expert.
Although their statements will be treated with scepticism in Washington, they suggest a reasoned view of international affairs in sharp contrast to the simplistic, bellicose and anti-American rhetoric used by junior officials and relayed to the world by the North Korean news agency.
In Mr Harrison's first-hand report, published in Tuesday's FT, North Korean leaders explicitly condemn al-Qaeda, and categorically reject US accusations that they would be willing to transfer nuclear technology to the Islamist terror group - or to anyone else.
Kim Yong-nam, deputy to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, said in a two-hour interview: "We're entitled to sell missiles to earn foreign exchange.
"But in regard to nuclear material our policy past, present and future is that we would never allow such transfers to al-Qaeda or anyone else. Never."
Paik Nam-soon, foreign minister, denounced al-Qaeda and other terrorists and said George W. Bush, US president, was using the shock of the September 11 attacks to turn Americans against North Korea. But he said: " The truth is that we want and need your friendship."
Mr Kim rejected the notion that North Korea would never give up nuclear weapons. He argued that Pyongyang - branded by Mr Bush as part of the "axis of evil" - was developing nuclear weapons purely to deter a US attack. "We don't want to suffer the fate of Iraq," he told Mr Harrison.
Mr Harrison, director of the Asia programme at the Centre for International Policy in Washington, has been highly critical of the Bush administration's hardline policy towards North Korea and enjoys exceptional access to the North Korean leaders.
He reports that the North Koreans firmly rejected the idea of immediately dismantling their nuclear programmes, insisted on a phased process with concessions on each side, and threw no light on how far they had developed weapons or how their actions could be verified.
Mr Kim told Mr Harrison he thought Mr Bush was delaying resolution of the North Korean issue because of the war in Iraq and the US presidential election later this year.
But he said: "Time is not on his side. We are going to use this time 100 per cent effectively to strengthen our nuclear deterrent both quantitatively and qualitatively. Why doesn't he accept our proposal to dismantle our programme completely and verifiably through simultaneous steps by both sides?"
Mr Harrison, on his eighth visit to the country, said he was struck by the "social ferment" resulting from Kim Jong-il's economic reforms after decades of rigid state control.
The benefits of reform, however, were unevenly spread, with farmers profiting from free markets but those on fixed wages suffering the effects of inflation.
Promote this thread!
ALL ORIGINAL POSTS IN THIS THREAD ARE NOW AVAILABLE