- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

North Korea, in its first public remarks to the new Bush administration, yesterday mixed harsh words with hints it is ready to continue dealing with Washington.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry statement, released by the official KNCA news agency, adopted the harsh tone often used in its propaganda broadsides, accusing the Bush administration of "boisterously blathering" about a new "hard-line stance."
It continued: "This again reveals the aggressive and brigandish nature of the United States to overturn the past trend in [U.S.-North Korean] relations," singling out President Bush's pledge to build a missile defense system to protect against "rogue nations" such as North Korea.
But while questioning U.S. good faith, Pyongyang for the first time spelled out the concessions it is prepared to make in exchange for continued aid and energy supplies from the United States and South Korea.
The statement confirmed that North Korea is prepared to accept a deal that would end its missile launch program in exchange for foreign help in getting its satellites aloft. It also said the North would stop selling its missiles abroad in exchange for foreign currency revenue guarantees.
In the next paragraph, Pyongyang said it would not observe a moratorium on missile launches "indefinitely" if there was no progress in talks on aid and assistance.
U.S. officials rejected North Korean assertions that the new administration is seeking to backtrack on the basic approach of the Clinton administration, which moved to contain Pyongyang's missile program while offering to ease a half-century of confrontation.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters the administration still considers North Korea "a regime to be carefully watched."
"It's not helpful for the North Koreans to threaten to have missile tests in order to get us to give up missile defense," Miss Rice said. "That's actually counterproductive."
But some officials said the hostile rhetoric masked signs there may be room to cut a deal.
A senior State Department official, said, "If you read the whole [statement], it's not just a reminder that they want our attention.
"It's also a reiteration of the foundations of what we have already agreed upon," the official said. "It's the first time they've said in public what they're prepared to do."
The North Korean statement comes as President Bush prepares to host South Korean President Kim Dae-jung here March 7.
Wracked by famine and the danger of economic collapse, the regime of North Korean strongman Kim Jong-il has overseen a remarkable turnaround in the country's isolationist stance in the past few years.
Mr. Kim hosted South Korea's President Kim for a precedent-shattering summit in June, and Pyongyang now has diplomatic relations with more than 120 countries and the United Nations.
But despite a 1994 accord to shut down its nuclear plant in exchange for U.S., South Korean and Japanese aid, North Korea's active missile development and export program, highlighted by the stunning test launch of a rocket over Japan in August 1998, have made for continuing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang in October pledged not to launch any new long-range missiles while talks on the issue continue.
Former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Stephen Bosworth, now dean of Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Mass., said he believed the belligerent tone of the North Korean message "was basically designed to make sure they have the attention of the new administration.
"These guys are nothing if not realists," Mr. Bosworth said. "They understand they have to pick up the pieces with a new administration, and they've signaled quite strongly that they want to do that. But neither do they want to be seen negotiating from a position of total weakness."
Added Joel Wit, a former State Department official who dealt with North Korea policy and is now a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, "You can always expect from the North Koreans a combination of bluster with an offer of working together."
"I think the real message here is that North Korea's saying there's still a deal to be had on missiles if the administration is willing," Mr. Wit said.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday a regular system of contacts between U.S. and North Korean diplomats in New York continues to function normally, despite yesterday's statement from Pyongyang.
"We remain in touch with the North Koreans through the New York channels," Mr. Boucher said. "I don't think they have asserted that there was any change in this overall situation at this point."

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