- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

North Korea is breaking out of its isolation by upgrading links with its Asian neighbors and the European Union, but it warned yesterday that the United States must drop it from a terrorism list and send promised fuel before U.S. ties improve.
The warning stems in part from a snag that has developed in plans for a North Korean diplomat to come to Washington: Pyongyang wants to be removed first from the U.S. terrorism list, but the United States refuses to do so until the North expels Japanese Red Army terrorists.
A North Korean diplomat said the fate of the Red Army Faction members, who hijacked a plane in 1970 and flew to Pyongyang, was none of America's business.
"It's between my country and Japan and the individuals in Korea themselves," said Kim Myong Gil, counselor at the North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York.
The dispute over the aging terrorists comes amid a diplomatic charm offensive by the reclusive communist state. It set up diplomatic ties with Italy last month and opened a mission in Hong Kong yesterday.
North Korea is also moving to set up ties with Australia, France, Taiwan, the Philippines and the European Union.
However relations with the United States, its main adversary in the 1950-1953 Korean War, remain central to its relations with the outside world.
North Korea desperately needs foreign investment and loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which remain blocked because of the U.S. terrorism list.
"North Korea wants the terrorist label lifted," Mr. Kim said in a telephone interview.
"According to the agreement reached in Berlin last month, this will be discussed in more detail" at a meeting to be held in New York to prepare for the March visit to the United States by the highest level North Korean official since the Korean War.
Mr. Kim indicated that his country has two vital issues that the United States needs to address before the top level visit can go forward sending promised fuel oil and dealing with the terrorism list.
"All pending issues are intertwined and we cannot rule out any isolated issue," he said.
The United States pledged to supply North Korea with fuel oil under a 1994 deal in which North Korea agreed to mothball a nuclear program that was suspected of being used to make atom bombs. The deal called for fuel oil deliveries to continue until two new modern atomic power plants, funded mainly by South Korea and Japan, are built and operating.
The State Department said in its 1998 Global Terrorism report that North Korea is one of seven states sponsoring terrorism, along with Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has not been linked solidly to the planning or execution of a terrorist attack since 1987, when a [Korean Airlines] airliner was bombed in flight," said the State Department report.
"North Korea continues to provide safe haven to members of the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction who participated in the hijacking of a Japanese flight to North Korea in 1970."
State Department officials refuse to say whether the new edition of the terrorism report to be issued in April this year, looking back at 1999, will retain North Korea on the list of terrorist states.
However State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said last week that "if North Korea and the United States resume our dialogue on counterterrorism and they were to take the additional steps that we think are necessary, they are a country that could be removed from the list."
When Charles Kartman, the U.S. negotiator on Korean issues, meets North Korean diplomats in New York later this month to plan the high-level visit in March he wants to "explain the additional steps necessary" to be removed from the list.
Mr. Kim however rejected U.S. interference in the dispute over the Japanese terrorists.
He also said that he did not yet know who the North Korean delegate would be to the March talks.
The tentative U.S.-North Korean talks contrast with the wide-ranging diplomatic offensive by Pyongyang's government lately.
Australia holds talks on upgrading ties on Monday.
France, Taiwan and the Philippines have all been approached and European Union officials plan meetings with North Korean officials.
At a recent NATO forum, officials representing China and Japan urged member countries to engage the Stalinist state in dialogue.
Russia two weeks ago signed a new friendship treaty with North Korea.
Yesterday North Korea opened a consulate general in Hong Kong on the 58th birthday of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

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