- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2001

North Korea remained silent yesterday as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said the Bush administration was ready to revive without "any preconditions" intensified diplomatic contacts frozen since the end of the Clinton administration.
U.S. diplomats hope to renew direct talks with North Korea on its missile program and huge conventional forces through a long-standing diplomatic back-channel in New York "in the very near future," Mr. Powell said yesterday, as he emerged from a working lunch with South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo.
The only semi-official signal from North Korea came from Kim Myong Chol, an official in Japan often used as a spokesman for the North Korean regime.
Mr. Kim told reporters in Japan yesterday that the North was ready to talk with the United States about the missile issue, but would discuss conventional force levels only after the U.S. forces helping to defend South Korea are withdrawn.
The rapprochement with the Stalinist state had been put on hold for four months while the new U.S. administration reviewed the effort to cut a deal pushed strongly by President Clinton at the end of his term.
But while saying the United States hoped for a more "comprehensive" dialogue with North Korea, including "humanitarian" issues and the Norths huge troop deployment, Mr. Powell indicated he was ready to resume the talks pretty much along the lines of the Clinton initiative.
"Were not setting any preconditions here," Mr. Powell said. "I think its important to have an open dialogue on all the issues that are concerned."
Mr. Bush in February delivered an unexpected setback to South Korean President Kim Dae-jungs own efforts to ease tensions with the North and end a half-century of bitter military stalemate on the peninsula. Mr. Bush expressed deep skepticism about whether Pyongyang could be trusted to abide by any agreement to curb its missile development and export program.
The South Korean leaders "Sunshine Policy," including a hoped-for visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to Seoul this year, has been on hold as the U.S. administration conducted a four-month policy review on North Korea.
A relieved Mr. Han said he "welcomed" Mr. Bushs statement Wednesday evening.
"We hope that the U.S. will engage North Korea in a very meaningful and useful dialogue, and in doing so, the United States and South Korea will coordinate our policy toward North Korea," he said.
While U.S. and North Korean diplomats have had "regular, logistical contacts" through the New York channel, North Korea learned of Mr. Bushs statement just hours before it was issued.
Mr. Bushs decision was welcomed by Japan and by the new Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who had been highly critical of Mr. Bushs treatment of South Koreas Mr. Kim.
Mr. Powell confirmed yesterday that the administration would not seek a renegotiation of the 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea suspended its nuclear program in exchange for fuel aid and foreign help in constructing modern nuclear-power plants.
The accord has come under heavy attacks from those who doubt North Koreas promises can be adequately verified.
"It is an agreement and we see no reason to change our position right now," Mr. Powell said.
Privately critical of Mr. Clintons 11th-hour push for a diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea, Bush administration officials were on the defensive yesterday, trying to distinguish the differences in their new approach.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters yesterday that the incoming Bush team had a right and a duty to review the policy in one of the worlds most dangerous places.
Some 37,000 U.S. troops are posted along the demilitarized zone along with South Korean forces. They face more than 1 million North Korean troops across the worlds most heavily militarized border.
A White House background briefing paper indicated there would be substantial continuity with the previous administrations approach.
"There are some elements that were useful and important, and we have incorporated them into our thinking," the paper concluded.

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