- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

Bush administration officials are debating whether to allow Undersecretary of State John Bolton to go ahead with a speech during a visit to Seoul next week that aggressively denounces North Korea.

A draft of the speech repeats President Bush's labeling of North Korea as an "evil" nation in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 29 and accuses it of seeking to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as selling missiles to rogue states.

It also says North Korea is a "terrorist" state that imprisons thousands of its own citizens for listening to short-wave radios and that it pushes many to seek escape by any means to China or South Korea.

South Korean officials and some U.S. diplomats oppose the speech, fearing that it would derail months of efforts by both countries to draw Pyongyang out of isolation and back to the negotiating table.

The draft further says that the United States will withdraw from the 1994 Agreed Framework if evidence is found that the North produced plutonium or enriched uranium under its now-frozen nuclear programs. The Agreed Framework commits a U.S.-led consortium to replace the frozen program with two light-water reactors.

Copies of the draft have been widely circulated within the administration. The Washington Times was shown a copy by a source outside Mr. Bolton's office on the condition that the document not be quoted.

Officials in the office of the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security declined to comment last night.

None of the accusations is new. But some senior administration officials fear that knitting all of them together into what one official called a "bellicose and threatening" speech will set back recent efforts to improve U.S.-North Korea relations.

The speech also could torpedo relations between the two Koreas that improved recently after almost a year in deep freeze.

"Relations are improving. There has been tangible progress in inter-Korean relations," said an Asian diplomat in Washington yesterday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

He said a speech by Mr. Bolton criticizing North Korea "would not have a desirable impact."

"I don't think he will do that in Korea," the diplomat said, adding that "he is strongly advised not to do that" by South Korean officials.

The diplomat predicted that if Mr. Bolton delivers the speech, he would do so in Tokyo, which he also will visit next week.

Some State Department and other administration officials expressed shock at the harsh tenor of the Bolton speech and said it was being "toned down" or that it might not be delivered.

One South Korean defense analyst said, however, that far from disrupting the inter-Korean talks, such a speech could prompt the North to accelerate trade and diplomacy with the South.

Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, is in Russia this week for meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a trip the analyst said was prompted in part because of the cold relations with the United States.

South Korea's establishment views Mr. Bolton as "one of the harsh, conservative critics of the North Korean regime, as well as of the wishy-washy South Korean policy towards North Korea," the analyst said.

Mr. Bolton previously disturbed diplomats with a May 6 luncheon speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he said that Cuba has "at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort."

The State Department subsequently said in a letter to a lawmaker that although it has no "smoking gun," it continues to have "major" and "legitimate" concerns that Cuba is developing biological weapons for offensive purposes.

U.S. relations with a communist North Korea were ruled out in the aftermath of the 1950-53 Korean War.

In August 2000, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright visited North Korea to meet Mr. Kim in the first high-level U.S. talks with a North Korean leader in the nation's history.

But soon after taking office, President Bush halted contacts and ordered a review of the Korea policy. That froze talks on missile development, proliferation, nuclear weapons and trade.

North Korea responded with a wave of angry rhetoric and canceled a planned summit in Seoul that was to have been the centerpiece of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's "Sunshine Policy" seeking reconciliation with the North.

Mr. Bush pledged in February not to attack the North and to continue U.S. food aid to the famine-stricken country, but talks remain stalled.

In July, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell held a 15-minute coffee meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun during a conference of Asian nations in Brunei, opening the way for a resumption of high-level talks.

Friday, the Bush administration said James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, is likely to go to North Korea in the fall in response to an offer by Pyongyang to resume a formal dialogue with the United States.

Talks between the two Koreas resumed last week, and there are plans to resume reunification visits for some of the many families divided since the Korean war.

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