- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

North Korea and the United States yesterday accused each other of avoiding face-to-face negotiations while the communist nation's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, rolled across the Russian landscape toward Moscow in an armored train.
"We await their response," said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker of a recent White House offer to negotiate with Pyongyang — talks that were initially put on hold by the Bush administration.
But a North Korean diplomat in New York countered: "The ball is in the United States' court."
The two longtime foes also failed to connect at a regional conference in Hanoi this week when North Korea nixed a potential meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell by failing to send its foreign minister.
Instead, Pyongyang sent a lower-level diplomat, Ho Jong, who told the Association of Southeast Asian Nations security forum on Wednesday that "dialogue should be conducted on the basis of equality."
Even North Korea's Mr. Kim, known as "dear leader" to his fellow countrymen, waded into the fray yesterday, telling Russia's Itar-Tass news agency the United States is seeking to dominate the world.
"The American fuss over the 'missile threat' from our country is completely groundless. It is no more than sophistry aimed at concealing the ambitions of those seeking to establish their global domination," Itar-Tass quoted Mr. Kim as saying in a rare interview.
The reclusive Mr. Kim, who reportedly harbors a phobia against flying, spoke before departing on a 10-day train ride from Pyongyang to Moscow, presumably for a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
With the exception of a recent train trip to China, the North Korean leader has not set foot outside the country during his seven years as head of state.
In Washington, meanwhile, Charles L. Pritchard, a State Department special envoy for Korean peace talks, told a House panel that North Korean missiles are capable of reaching the United States.
"The North Korean effort to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles poses a direct threat to the United States," he told the House International Relations subcommittee on East Asia and the Pacific.
The director of Asia programs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Robert M. Hathaway, said that North Korea's call for "equality" in a dialogue meant it was uncomfortable with the Bush administration's effort to broaden missile talks to include conventional military deployments.
The Clinton administration had opened up the reclusive communist nation of 22 million people to a visit by then-Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright last year.
"There appeared to be some momentum in U.S.-North Korean relations in the second part of last year, but it came to a halt," Mr. Hathaway said.
President Bush had entered office calling for a review of the United States' Korea policy, including Mrs. Albright's missile talks, adding discussions of the forward deployment of hundreds of thousands of North Korean troops near the South Korean border.
While the two sides exchanged accusations yesterday over who is responsible for the chill, Mr. Kim rolled through the Siberian countryside on the special 10-car train.
"I expect he and North Korea in general is feeling pretty lonely" said Mr. Hathaway, referring to its being isolated diplomatically and cut off from trade with most of the world.
Mr. Pritchard told the House panel that the U.S. offer for resuming talks was open-ended.
He said that "the United States is well on its way to delivering 100,000 metric tons of food aid we pledged back in March" for a famine that appears to be continuing in the North.
However, he reiterated Mr. Bush's call for verification of existing agreements as well as addressing the conventional troops and weapons close to the north-south border, where 37,000 U.S. troops are standing guard.

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