- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage yesterday promised that the United States would hold direct talks with North Korea to try to resolve the standoff over that nation's burgeoning missile and nuclear programs.
"We're going to have to have direct talks with the North Koreans, there's no question about it," Mr. Armitage, the No. 2 man at the State Department, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has said the United States is willing to talk "but not negotiate" with Pyongyang.
Senators, meanwhile, told the administration not to become so bogged down in addressing Iraq that they fail to attend to the situation in North Korea.
North Korea yesterday accused the United States of pursuing a "policy of evil," after reports that the United States had put military aircraft and ships on alert that they might be deployed near the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper dismissed U.S. offers of dialogue on the impasse as "a camouflaged peace hoax to cover up its nuclear blackmail" against North Korea.
North Korean state radio said the reported reinforcement proposals showed that the United States was "plotting to boost forces in Japan and South Korea as one link in its scheme to stifle our country through military means."
Mr. Armitage told lawmakers the military alert was a "contingency" to show North Korea that the United States was not preoccupied with Iraq.
"That's a prudent military planning procedure. And that as far as I know, nothing has moved forward. It's an alert to be available to move forward," he said.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters the alert would allow U.S. forces to be moved and "arranged so that the world understands that in the event someone does think that it's an opportune time because the United States is focused on Iraq, that our force deployments and arrangements ought to lead to the proper conclusion that we are not single-minded, and that that deterrent effect is a healthy thing."
North Korea withdrew from a 1994 agreement that froze its nuclear-arms development after the United States in October presented evidence that it was violating the accord. Since then, it has expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
U.S. officials say spy satellites have detected what could be the movement of 8,000 spent fuel rods at a nuclear facility. Mr. Armitage said yesterday that the rods, if reprocessed, could produce fissile material for four to six nuclear weapons.
North Korea's government in Pyongyang is insisting on a nonaggression treaty to defuse the situation. Mr. Armitage said North Korea had asked only for a pledge of nonaggression, which Mr. Powell was ready to give.
Mr. Armitage predicted that the Senate would not ratify a nonaggression treaty.
"It is our estimation today that there's zero chance of that being possible," he said.
But Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said sentiments could change.
"If the president of the United States said he wanted it, I bet you a million dollars it would change. But that's up to him," he said.
Also yesterday, Chyung Dai-chul, an adviser to South Korea's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, met with Mr. Powell to tell him that South Korea was in no hurry to see a U.N. debate on North Korea's nuclear programs.
"We also expressed our hope that the United States … plays a more proactive role in engaging in dialogue with North Korea, but also with an international setting, with a multilateral approach," Mr. Chyung said.
Much of the committee hearing was spent pondering at what point the situation on the Korean Peninsula would qualify as a "crisis."
"The reason I wouldn't label it a crisis I think we have got some time to work this," Mr. Armitage said. "We've been working it for several months, not 12 years, like in Iraq. It could develop into a crisis, but it's not there now."
He also noted a difference between North Korea's and Iraq's motives for acquiring weapons.
"We know, we think, what [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il wants, at least the experience of our predecessors in the previous administration indicates that he wants some economic benefits and things of that nature, in exchange for these programs," he said.
"It's quite a different situation in Iraq, where we feel that what [Saddam Hussein] wants to do, as I've said, is intimidate, dominate and attack."
He told senators that the administration wanted to make sure that in pursuing direct talks "this thing doesn't rub off entirely on us to come up with a solution" and that officials were waiting for Mr. Roh to form a new government in South Korea.
"It's not going to be, I think, before we get a steady government in the Republic of Korea," Mr. Armitage said. "But there's no question I spoke to the secretary about it this morning we're absolutely going to have to talk with them bilaterally. We acknowledge that."
Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, told Mr. Armitage he wanted to make sure the administration wouldn't repeat the Clinton administration's 1994 agreement, which he said failed to ban North Korea from selling its ballistic missile technology.
Mr. Armitage said missiles will be part of any future agreement.
"I can assure you that we're not going to let that slip again," he said.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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