- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

A top contender to be South Korea’s next president is warning that North Korea must be forced to give up all its nuclear-weapons programs if the new accord to end the peninsula’s nuclear crisis is to succeed.

Park Guen-hye, daughter of the late South Korean President Park Chung-hee and a former chairman of the leading opposition party, said on a Washington visit Wednesday that the deal reached during the six-party talks in Beijing this week was a “good first step,” but there were still “many mountains to cross” before the crisis was resolved.

Merely freezing Pyongyang’s existing nuclear arsenal, she said, was unacceptable and would only re-create the conditions of the discredited 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration.

She also said the deal reached this week among the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and host China was not clear on whether Pyongyang would have to destroy its nuclear arsenal, estimated at four to 12 bombs.

She made the comments at the National Press Club as North and South Korean negotiators yesterday announced plans to hold high-level talks later this month, the first tangible result of the nuclear disarmament pact. Cabinet-level meetings on bilateral ties will take place in Pyongyang starting Feb. 27 — the first such gathering since North Korea conducted missile tests in July.

Top North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan, on his return to Pyongyang yesterday, said the six-party talks had “gone well,” Japan’s Kyodo News service reported.

“We are ready to implement the results of the meeting,” he said.

President Bush, in a White House press conference Wednesday, brushed aside as “flat wrong” conservatives’ complaints that the North will pocket promised fuel and food aid from the deal without being required to dismantle its nuclear programs first.

But he echoed Mrs. Park in saying that the North’s follow-up moves to the Beijing deal will be crucial.

“Those who say the North Koreans have to prove themselves by actually following through on the deal are right, and I’m one,” Mr. Bush said. “This is a good first step.”

One provision that conservatives find particularly troubling could allow North Korea to be removed from a list of terror-sponsoring states. One of Bush’s deputy national security advisers, Elliott Abrams, raised alarms about that section in a series of e-mails.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said he spoke with Mr. Abrams and assured him that North Korea will not be removed from the list unless it changes its behavior.

“We’ve seen conservatives criticizing this provision because they want the same kind of reassurance,” Mr. Snow said. “So here it is — no political deal, it has to be based on facts and performance on the part of the North Koreans.”

Joel Wit, who helped negotiate the nuclear-freeze deal with North Korea in 1994 when he was with the State Department, praised the accord but cautioned there were huge question marks hanging over its implementation. They include the fate of the North’s nuclear stockpile, Pyongyang’s cooperation in disclosing all its nuclear assets and the effectiveness of the five “working groups” set up to implement the deal.

“There is a distinct danger that this deal could collapse,” Mr. Wit said.

Mrs. Park’s Grand National Party has soared in the polls ahead of the December presidential election as the Uri Party, allied to Mr. Roh, has slumped. Recent polls put the GNP’s support at nearly 50 percent, compared with 10 percent for Uri.

In a five-day U.S. visit designed to burnish her international credentials, Mrs. Park will meet with top U.S. officials and reach out to the large, increasingly affluent Korean-American community.

She enjoys high name recognition because of her father, but recent polls put Mrs. Park behind former Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-bak in the race for the GNP nomination. The party will choose its candidate in a primary in June.

On another issue, Mrs. Park said she strongly opposed a plan to transfer wartime command of joint U.S.-South Korean forces from the United States to South Korea, a move scheduled to occur by 2012.

She said the command transfer, coupled with recent cuts in U.S. troop levels on the peninsula, had raised popular fears about the future of the U.S.-South Korean alliance.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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