- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

President Bush demanded "complete verification" of any agreements with North Korea yesterday and backed away from remarks by his secretary of state a day earlier that Washington was ready to resume missile talks with its communist foe.
Following a White House meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, Mr. Bush told reporters:
"I am concerned about the fact that the North Koreans are shipping weapons around the world, and any agreement that would convince them not to do so would be beneficial," the president said.
"But we want to make sure that their ability to develop and spread weapons of mass destruction was, in fact stopped … and that we could verify that in fact they had stopped it."
The president's remarks offered the clearest indication yet that he planned to take a hard-line stance against North Korea and appeared to put the United States at odds with South Korea, its longtime ally that hosts 37,000 American troops.
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Kim winner of last year's Nobel Peace Price for his efforts to reconcile the two Koreas characterized their talks as "frank" a euphemism meaning they disagreed.
They quashed speculation of any discord, with Mr. Bush praising Mr. Kim's "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North and urging him to continue.
At the same time, the president halted at least temporarily the push for a U.S.-North Korean missile deal that marked the final days of the Clinton administration.
President Clinton sought to visit Pyongyang, meet its secretive leader, Kim Jong-il, and sign an agreement ending the communist nation's manufacture and export of ballistic missiles to nations such as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan.
Mr. Bush indicated the United States was in no hurry to continue.
"We look forward to at some point in the future having a dialogue with the North Koreans, but any negotiation would require complete verification of the terms," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush's message also hinted at some dissonance within his own administration over how to approach North Korea a nation with a million-man army on hair-trigger alert across a 150-mile-long buffer zone that 37,000 U.S. troops help guard.
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said: "We do plan to engage with North Korea and to pick up where President Clinton left off."
It's too soon to tell where this administration is headed, said Joel Wit, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.
"Any new administration has to struggle between continuity and change. It's a delicate balance, and we're going to wind up with something in between," said Mr. Wit, who helped draft a 1994 nuclear deal with North Korea.
Administration officials dismissed suggestions of inconsistency between statements by the president and Mr. Powell, with one official saying they reflected two sides of the same coin.
But Mr. Bush's comments yesterday went well beyond anything said previously in laying out a hard-line stance against North Korea.
Apart from the pending missile deal, Mr. Bush questioned whether North Korea was in compliance with past agreements and by inference, the 1994 nuclear deal in which North Korea gave up its efforts to make atom bombs in exchange for the promise of two nuclear power plants from the West.
"Part of the problem in dealing with North Korea, there's not much transparency. We're not certain as to whether or not they're keeping all terms of all agreements, and that's part of the issue [Mr. Kim] and I discussed," Mr. Bush said. "When you make an agreement with a country that is secretive, how do you how are you aware as to whether or not they're keeping the terms of the agreement?"
A senior administration official later cautioned reporters against interpreting the president's remarks as aimed at the nuclear deal, known as the "agreed framework."
"There's been no indication of [North Korea] violating the agreed framework," said the official, who added that the United States would continue to adhere to the agreement.
"We're going to look at it and see how we can improve it and make [the agreed framework] better," said the official, who added, "it's going to be a consultative process" within the administration and among U.S. allies.
The nuclear deal involves the United States, South Korea and Japan in a consortium that has pledged to build the two atomic power stations in the North.
In contrast, the missile deal sought by Mr. Clinton involved Washington and Pyongyang alone.
North Korea, in principle, agreed to halt the manufacture, development and exports of ballistic missiles. In exchange, the United States would provide rockets to launch North Korean satellites into outer space and help the impoverished nation feed its 22 million people.
However, those familiar with the 11th-hour negotiations under Mr. Clinton say verification measures sought by the United States, including on-site checks of missile factories, inspections of mobile missile launchers and peeks into underground tunnels, were unacceptable to Pyongyang.
Mr. Powell told reporters yesterday that North Korea remains a threat:
"It's got a huge army poised on the border, within artillery and rocket distance of South Korea, and the president forcefully made this point to President Kim Dae-jung. And they still have weapons of mass destruction. So we have to see them as a threat… .
"But at the same time realize that changes are taking place," he said.
In the past year, North Korea sought to end its longtime isolation, hosting visiting heads of state, including the South Korean president in June and Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state under Mr. Clinton, in October.
But while Mr. Clinton seemed eager to meet the man known in North Korea as the "dear leader," Mr. Bush said yesterday he did not trust him.
"I do have some skepticism about the leader of North Korea," Mr. Bush said.


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