- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

The first U.S. official to visit North Korea in two years arrives today in Pyongyang to discuss nuclear weapons, missile technology and conventional forces even as key Republican senators are calling for a suspension of support for the two nuclear reactors under construction for the benefit of Pyongyang.

A parallel objective of the visit by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, is to gauge the reclusive state's willingness to deal with the United States.

In a letter to Mr. Bush dated Sept. 26, the senators said building the reactors should be conditional on the North's granting U.N. weapons inspectors full access to all of its suspected nuclear sites.

The letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Republican Sens. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Robert C. Smith of New Hampshire and Mike DeWine of Ohio.

The five senators said they "have been skeptical" of the framework since the beginning and "feared it would allow Pyongyang to work clandestinely on its nuclear weapons program at the same time it receives tangible benefits from the agreement."

They also cited a National Intelligence Council report saying that North Korea has already produced "one, possibly two, nuclear weapons."

The administration yesterday tried to lower expectations for Mr. Kelly's visit, although it said it was hoping for a "useful and productive" trip.

"We are not expecting him to come back with an agreement in his pocket, but at the same time we wouldn't have sent him if we didn't think that there is some value in the trip," a State Department official said.

The administration was reluctant to disclose Mr. Kelly's schedule and agenda even in basic details, saying that the officials he would meet and the specific topics he would discuss would not be clear until the last moment because of North Korea's infamous unpredictability.

The State Department said, however, that security issues such as Pyongyang's frozen nuclear program, its production and exports of missile technology and its huge conventional force are Washington's top priorities in any meetings with the North Koreans.

Mr. Kelly's visit was supposed to take place earlier this year, but was postponed because of objection by hard-liners in the administration and a fatal naval clash in the Yellow Sea between vessels from North and South Korea in June, for which Pyongyang later issued a rare apology.

The eight-member U.S. delegation was in Seoul yesterday for meetings with South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong, two top national security advisers to President Kim Dae-jung, Yim Sung-joon and Lim Dong-won, and other officials.

"We hope special envoy Kelly's visit to North Korea will serve as a launching pad for improving ties between the North and the United States," said Park Sun-Sook, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kim. "We also hope the visit will produce best results to help bring about peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula."

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright traveled to Pyongyang in October 2000 for talks with President Kim Jong-il.

She won a pledge from the North's leader to stop making missiles if the United States would find rockets to launch its satellites into outer space.

In the final months of the Clinton administration, officials sought to cement such a deal and have President Clinton travel to Pyongyang for a summit.

The effort proved unsuccessful, and Mr. Bush rejected negotiations shortly after coming to office and ordering a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea.

After talks in North Korea, Mr. Kelly plans to fly back to Seoul and then to Tokyo to brief officials on his discussions.

Mr. Kelly will be traveling as a special envoy of Mr. Bush, who in January branded the North, along with Iran and Iraq, as part of "an axis of evil" with intentions to develop weapons of mass destruction.

The State Department said last week that Mr. Kelly's agenda would include North Korea's missile proliferation, the nuclear program that it suspended in a 1994 deal with Washington, its heavy deployment of conventional weapons and troops along the border with South Korea, and human rights issues.

The United States keeps about 37,000 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against the North.

North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju is expected to take part in the negotiations in Pyongyang.

The North revived stalled reconciliation with South Korea in August and hosted an unprecedented visit by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sept. 17.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide