- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

The Bush administration said yesterday it will pursue the diplomatic opening to North Korea begun by the Clinton administration, as President Bush prepared for a summit today with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.
"We are not avoiding North Korea, quite the contrary," Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters. "We think we have a lot to offer that regime, if they will act in ways that are constructive."
Mr. Kim, whose efforts to ease 50 years of hostility with the North earned him the Nobel Peace Prize last year, will have his first face-to-face meeting with Mr. Bush at the White House, and will also meet with Mr. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
"The South Korean-U.S. summit is a crucial meeting, the first since the launch of the Bush administration," Mr. Kim said in Seoul before leaving yesterday for a five-day U.S. trip. He will also meet with International Monetary Fund and World Bank officials in Washington and spend a day in Chicago before going home.
South Korean analysts said Mr. Kim hopes to get the new administration's explicit backing for his "sunshine policy" of rapprochement with Pyongyang and also wants assurances that Washington's own efforts to engage the North have not been shelved.
Tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula over the uncertainties surrounding the new U.S. administration.
Mr. Powell has previously praised the Clinton administration's North Korea initiatives, but many of Mr. Bush's appointees have been critical of Pyongyang's active ballistic missile development and export program.
In addition, despite recent diplomatic moves, North Korea remains a prime target of the proposed U.S. missile defense system a top Bush priority.
Mr. Kim faces domestic political criticism for the lack of results to date from the sunshine policy. And he raised new questions last week when he seemed to endorse an effort by Russian President Vladimir Putin to oppose the U.S. missile defense idea, although officials in Seoul quickly moved to reassure Washington.
North Korea only increased the unease with a stinging broadside last month, accusing the United States of reneging on the deal outlined by Mr. Clinton that would curb Pyongyang's military programs in exchange for economic and technical aid.
"This again reveals the aggressive and brigandish nature of the United States to overturn the past trend in U.S.-North Korean relations," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in one statement.
But Mr. Powell said the new administration had moved cautiously because it wanted to hear from Mr. Kim before proceeding.
"We haven't begun that consultative process with the North Koreans because we thought it was important to first talk with our South Korean friends," Mr. Powell said, speaking with reporters yesterday after a meeting with leaders of the European Union.
China, North Korea's primary patron in Asia, also played down fears yesterday of a fresh round of confrontation.
"I don't see relations between the United States and North Korea as being that tense," Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan said in a Beijing news conference.
"I do not think there will be a retrogressive step involving this important question," he said.
North Korea stunned its East Asian neighbors by firing a three-stage rocket over Japan in 1998, raising fears that it could develop ballistic missiles that could reach U.S. bases and territory.
The CIA ranks North Korea as the world's biggest exporter of ballistic missiles. North Korea claims it earns up to $1 billion each year in sales to countries such as Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
But North Korea's secretive dictator, Kim Jong-il, has begun to open his country's ravaged economy to the world, and hosted South Korea's Mr. Kim at an unprecedented summit in June. The North Korean leader is expected to visit Seoul sometime this year.
In addition, Pyongyang agreed to suspend its missile-launch program while it held talks with the United States on economic aid and international assistance in launching its telecommunications satellites.
"Some promising elements were left on the table" by the previous administration, Mr. Powell said, "and we'll be examining those elements."
On other subjects, Mr. Powell:
Called for "restraint on all sides" as Macedonia dealt with an ethnic Albanian extremist group that has held a border town across from the U.N. protectorate in Kosovo for more than three weeks. He said the NATO-dominated peacekeeping force is beefing up its patrols along Kosovo's border with Macedonia.
Harshly condemned Afghanistan's Taleban regime for its reported efforts to destroy ancient monumental Buddha statues. "It's horrible. It's a tragedy. It's a crime against humankind, and I deplore it," he said.
Warned Ukraine that recent government violations of press and political freedoms have sidetracked the country's economic reform.
"The United States and the EU are standing by wanting to help Ukraine, but they've got to get these political difficulties behind them and show that they're worthy of that kind of investment," Mr. Powell said.

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