- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

President Clinton yesterday announced he would not be making a hoped-for trip to North Korea, saying there was not enough time left in his term to nail down a deal to curb Pyongyang's long-range missile program.
The White House held out till the last minute in hopes that the precedent-shattering trip could be arranged, despite considerable skepticism among congressional Republicans and many leading U.S. Korean scholars.
"We've made a lot of progress on the missile issues," the president said, "but I concluded that I did not have sufficient time to put the trip together and to execute the trip in an appropriate manner in the days remaining."
Mr. Clinton leaves office Jan. 20.
The secretive communist regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has staged a remarkable diplomatic opening this year after a half-century of near-isolation and military tension with South Korea and the West.
Mr. Kim hosted South Korean President Kim Dae-jung for a three-day summit in June, and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright became the highest-ranking U.S. diplomat to visit Pyongyang when she traveled there in October.
Mrs. Albright's trip focused on a North Korean offer to consider ending the development, launch, and export of long-range missiles in exchange for foreign assistance in putting communications satellites in space.
But crucial details of the deal including verification of North Korea's compliance and controls over U.S. technology used for the satellite launches put added pressure on negotiators as Mr. Clinton pondered whether to make the trip.
President-elect George W. Bush yesterday again refrained from comment on the North Korean trip, although a number of Republican lawmakers have warned Mr. Clinton against making the visit.
Donald Rumsfeld, named by Mr. Bush yesterday as his choice for secretary of defense, authored the 1998 report on global missile dangers that targeted North Korea as perhaps the prime international threat to U.S. security.
Mr. Clinton said Mr. Bush had not opposed the idea of a trip when the two discussed the issue.
"We had a very, very good talk about it, and he did not discourage it at all," Mr. Clinton said. "It would not be fair to put that on him."
Sitting on one side of the world's most heavily militarized border, North Korea stunned its East Asian neighbors and U.S. military analysts with the 1998 test of a three-stage rocket over Japanese airspace.
The test raised fears that the North could deliver ballistic missiles that could hit the United States.
U.S. officials said Mrs. Albright had made concrete progress on the missile deal while in Pyongyang, although the visit did not go off without a hitch.
North Korea's Mr. Kim broke with the carefully orchestrated agenda for the trip, taking Mrs. Albright to a mass rally at which the glories of the North's missile program were celebrated.
"There was a feeling that Albright got blindsided by the North Koreans on the propaganda front," said L. Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mansfield Center for Pacific Affairs.
"The North Koreans paraded Kim Dae-jung in front of the masses when he came; they did it to Albright; they did it when [Russian President Vladimir] Putin paid a visit. There was every indication they fully intended to do the same thing to President Clinton," Mr. Flake said.
Mr. Flake said there was a "pretty sizable consensus" among U.S. North Korea watchers that a Clinton trip in the next few weeks was premature. They warned Mrs. Albright in a private meeting after her return that the trip might commit an unwilling Bush administration to policies it had not had time to evaluate, and it could raise North Korean ambitions about how far the U.S. government was willing to go.
Larry M. Wortzel, director of the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, was an outspoken critic of the proposed presidential visit and applauded Mr. Clinton's decision not to go.
He said Mr. Bush should not make the trip until North Korea's Mr. Kim has ended the formal state of war that still exists with the South and carries through on a promise to visit Seoul.
Jon Wolfsthal, a specialist on North Korea and nonproliferation issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the effort to enhance his foreign-policy legacy clearly drove Mr. Clinton's approach to North Korea in recent months.
But he also said the incoming Bush administration could build on recent progress by the Clinton administration if it chose to do so.
"There's clearly a lot of detail to work out, but I think it's clear by now the North Koreans are ready to cut a deal," he said.
Mr. Clinton yesterday lobbied his successor to follow his lead.
"We made a lot of progress with North Korea," he said. "And I believe that the next administration will be able to consummate this agreement. I expect visits back and forth."
While Japanese leaders have been more skeptical, South Korea's Mr. Kim had supported the idea of a Clinton trip.
South and North Korean negotiators, meanwhile, began three days of talks yesterday on ways to boost cooperation to help the North's shattered economy. The talks are the first high-level negotiations solely on economic matters.

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