- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 12, 2002

The Bush administration is refocusing its attention on North Korea and its nuclear and missile capabilities with a major diplomatic effort on the peninsula to begin as early as this month.
South Korea announced yesterday that President Bush will visit the country in late February, with the reclusive North and its troublesome nuclear potential high on the agenda in the summit with President Kim Dae-jung.
The trip will include a stop in Japan, according to officials in Tokyo.
The announcement of a new diplomatic gambit on the Korean Peninsula comes as yet another signal that the Bush administration is returning to a broader foreign policy agenda since beginning the anti-terrorism campaign in Afghanistan.
Seoul also said South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo will discuss relations with the North with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in Washington later this month.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said yesterday a visit by a team of specialists to a North Korean nuclear facility next week will be a "small but welcome first step" toward resuming full inspections.
The Bush administration, which has said for several months that it's ready to re-engage with the North at any time with no preconditions, made a fresh overture to the Stalinist state this week at a meeting with a North Korean official in New York.
Jack Pritchard, Washington's special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, "had an introductory meeting" on Thursday with Pak Gil-yon, Pyongyang's new permanent representative to the United Nations, a State Department official said yesterday.
"The meeting is part of our routine diplomatic contact with North Korea via our New York channel," the official said.
North Korean ballistic missiles, which it sells to rogue nations such as Iraq and Syria, are another major concern in Washington.
But North Korea appears to be unmoved by these U.S. concerns.
Yesterday, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said U.S. statements of concern about North Korean ballistic missiles showed "a wicked criminal intention to aggravate the inter-Korean relations and block the reunification of Korea."
The State Department has called on Pyongyang to allow IAEA inspectors to visit the Yongbyon site of the nuclear facility, which was mothballed under a 1994 agreement with Washington. In exchange, the United States, together with South Korea and Japan, promised the North two modern nuclear power stations, which are now under construction.
The experts going to the site Tuesday are members of a "technical team," the IAEA said yesterday. They will also visit an isotope production laboratory, which the North says was involved in the early stages of developing its program to generate electricity by splitting the atom.
U.S. intelligence officials believe the North also used the project to make fuel for nuclear weapons and may already have put together one or more atom bombs.
"This is a small but welcome step toward a return to full-fledged inspections required under North Korea's safeguards agreement," IAEA head Mohammed Baradei said in a statement.
The Vienna, Austria-based IAEA, a U.N. agency, has since 1993 been unable to fully implement a safeguards accord with North Korea and therefore cannot verify Pyongyang's assertion that its nuclear program is not involved in weapons production.
"If it were to resume these inspections, the agency estimates the work required to verify that all nuclear material in [North Korea] had been declared to the agency would take three to four years with full cooperation," Mr. Baradei's statement said.
The IAEA wants full inspections of the Yongbyon site, which is suspected of having secretly produced unspecified amounts of weapons-grade plutonium.
North Korea has refused the IAEA full access to its facilities and denies it has ambitions to make nuclear weapons in the future.
The $4.6 billion project to build two nuclear power stations in the North was supposed to be completed by 2003, but delays have pushed back the finish until at least 2008. Pyongyang insists it will allow full IAEA inspections only when a significant portion of the project is completed.
A State Department official said the IAEA already has at Yongbyon people though not inspectors whose job is to make sure that "the canning of nuclear materials is going on under accepted standards."

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