- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

Recent press reports and comments by administration officials continue to signal that President Clinton is contemplating a last minute January state visit to North Korea. Such a visit in the waning days of his administration would be unwise, perhaps even dangerous.

Responding to Mr. Clinton's worldwide hunt for foreign policy "successes" to patch together a lasting legacy, the White House and State Department are pushing to complete a "deal" on missiles with the North Koreans to allow Mr. Clinton to add North Korea to his legacy list. Americans and the incoming new administration should have deep reservations regarding a hurried state visit to North Korea in the last month of the Clinton administration.

We in Congress are, at most, only guardedly encouraged that the North Korean leadership is starting to recognize that ties with the rest of the world and the requisite restraint of its nuclear and missile proliferation policies are in its national interests. Secretary Albright's October visit to North Korea and North Korean President Kim Jong-Il's statements on the possibility of restraining the DPRK missile program are signs that Mr. Kim may actually be re-evaluating North Korea's isolation. Most encouraging, of course, is the continued engagement between the two Koreas, even as one-sided as it still remains.

It is unambiguously premature to consider a state visit. North Korea repeatedly has demonstrated its proclivity for radically reversing its positions, backpedaling, and engaging in intentionally provocative and confrontational behavior. Pyongyang has mastered the art of brinkmanship, continually seeking to extract financial rewards in return for a temporary improvement in behavior. We should never assume that Mr. Kim has suddenly committed to transforming himself or his country. The North has merely agreed to a moratorium on missile testing undoubtedly missile development activities continue without restraint. Equally important, we have seen little or no progress with the North Koreans on issues of serious concern to the United States and to our major allies in the region, particularly Japan.

A presidential visit would reward North Korea without its having made any significant commitments on missile programs both long-range and short-range missile programs. The administration has not shared with Congress or the American people the nature of the "deal" that the Clinton administration is reportedly trying to achieve prior to a Clinton visit. A key question that the administration has yet to answer is what types of missiles the "deal" would include. While the administration's concern has been focused on development of long-range missiles that could potentially be targeted at the United States, we should also be deeply concerned about North Korea's short-range missile program and the security threat it may pose to Japan, South Korea and U.S. forces stationed in the region. There are also very serious lingering concerns regarding North Korea's nuclear program and its compliance with the 1994 Agreed Framework. Reports suggest that North Korea continues to seek external assistance for its nuclear ambitions and that it has sought to acquire critical dual-use equipment in Europe and Japan.

Unlike China or former Soviet bloc countries, North Korea has not undertaken any steps with regard to economic or trade reform. Instead, it has sought massive international assistance to feed its people without being willing to change its economic system. To its credit, the United States has put the lives of innocent women and children above politics our humanitarian aid donations are now sufficiently large to provide food for virtually every child in North Korea if they are receiving it. However, the leadership in Pyongyang seems unfazed by the suffering of its people. Certainly, we have no evidence that Mr. Kim has decided to undertake any political reforms or steps to grant his people greater human rights protections.

It is striking that the United States has not established the most basic level of diplomatic ties with North Korea because of its continued designation as a state sponsor of terrorism and yet a presidential trip is still being considered. A state visit prior to concluding significant agreements on these outstanding issues would be rewarding Mr. Kim and the North Koreans without having obtained any commitments, and it is highly doubtful whether such a premature presidential visit would be in the interests of the United States or its regional allies. President-elect Bush and his administration must be given the opportunity of further developing U.S. relations with North Korea with careful deliberation and in close consultation with our allies in the region.

The new administration will have diminished diplomatic leverage and flexibility in negotiating with North Korea if Mr. Clinton's state visit has already taken place. Rushed negotiations with a totalitarian state, such as North Korea, on such crucial matters as missile proliferation will definitely not result in the best foreign policy decision-making.

Therefore, in the interests of the American people, U.S. allies, and our future president, I call upon Mr. Clinton to reconsider any ill-conceived plans for a last minute state visit to North Korea.

Rep. Doug Bereuter, Nebraska Republican, is vice chairman of the House Committee on International Relations and chairman of the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

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