- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

U.S. Democrats, uneasy at the prospect of inheriting a dicey nuclear faceoff with North Korea, have urged Pyongyang to strike a deal with the Bush administration rather than delay it in hopes of a better offer from the next president.

The chief U.S. negotiator with the North, Christopher R. Hill, said yesterday that the message was delivered directly to the North Koreans by William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, during his visit to Pyongyang last month.

“The various Democrats they have talked to have made very clear to them that the Democrats want them to strike a deal with this administration,” Mr. Hill told editors and reporters at The Washington Times.

“I briefed Bill Perry [before his trip] and he made very clear what he was going to tell them — and I understand that he did tell them that — don’t expect a better deal from the Democrats,” Mr. Hill said.

Mr. Perry has no formal role in the presidential campaigns of Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama, but he has long-standing ties with officials in both campaigns.

Sources close to the campaigns said yesterday that Mr. Perry had conveyed the right message, pointing out that it “will get tougher” politically for a Democratic president to cut a deal.

North Korea has shut down and almost disabled its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon. But it is refusing U.S. demands to disclose all past programs in a declaration required under an October agreement reached at six-nation talks aimed at ending the North’s nuclear programs.

Kim Kye-gwan, the chief North Korean negotiator, complained to Mr. Perry that Washington’s inflexibility on the disclosure was delaying progress on the overall goal of the six-party process, sources said.

The United States insists on a “complete and correct declaration” because it is concerned about what it says was a secret North Korean effort to enrich uranium — Pyongyang has assured Washington that it does not currently have such a program — as well as evidence of “long-standing” nuclear cooperation between North Korea and Syria.

Mr. Perry was on a cruise ship in the Pacific yesterday and could not be reached for comment. But Evans Revere, president of the Korea Society in New York, who accompanied him on his trip to Pyongyang for the concert of the New York Philharmonic in late February, confirmed Mr. Hill’s remarks.

“We told the North Koreans that the stars may never be better aligned than they are now, and that the deal might actually get worse for them [after the November election] if there is no progress” between now and then, Mr. Revere said.

“They took it all on board,” he said.

In an attempt to find a “creative” way to persuade the North to disclose its past programs and proliferation activities, the United States and China proposed different “formats” for the declaration in the past few weeks.

They suggested that the uranium-enrichment and Syria issues be addressed in a document separate from the main declaration, which would only cover the well-known plutonium program. The question is how far the North Koreans are willing to go with their disclosure.

The United States has assured them that whatever information they provide will not be used to punish them or for any other negative actions.

Submitting the declaration would complete the second phase of the denuclearization process. In the next stage, the North must begin dismantling its programs. The benefits it would receive include diplomatic relations with the United States, a permanent peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula and economic aid.

Washington is already supplying the North with heavy fuel oil.

The North also demands that it be taken off the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism before or at the same time as its declaration.

Mr. Hill has been vague about the exact timing of the removal from the list, but yesterday he was more committal than usual. Asked whether the administration was reluctant to do it as part of the second phase, he said:

“No, we’ll do it, [but] we’d like to see the North Koreans take the Japanese issues seriously,” a reference to the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Koreans in the 1970s and 1980s.

“We don’t want a situation where we improve things [with North Korea] at the expense of Japan, so we have to manage that,” Mr. Hill said.

He also said internal political wranglings in North Korea are making progress on denuclearization more difficult, adding that “there is a nuclear industry there that is going to resist some of this.”

“How Kim Jong-il manages all this is hard to say, but you have the impression that he’s not going to move on something unless he gets a consensus position on it,” Mr. Hill said, referring to the reclusive North Korean leader.

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