- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 3, 2002

The United States yesterday canceled plans to send a delegation to North Korea next week, citing Pyongyang's failure to respond to the U.S. proposal on time and its sinking of a South Korean vessel last weekend.
But the State Department said the Bush administration has not lost interest in resuming dialogue with the reclusive state and has left the door open for talks, although it said dates have not been discussed.
"Last night, we informed the North Korean mission to the United Nations that we could no longer plan on a July 10 trip, since we had not received a timely response from Pyongyang," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
"We also informed the North Koreans that a violent naval conflict in the Yellow Sea had created an unacceptable atmosphere in which to conduct the talks," he said in reference to the Saturday clash, which killed four South Korean sailors. The North has released no information on casualties on its side.
North Korea has accused its southern neighbor of causing the incident and the United States of "orchestrating" it. The State Department called that assertion "spurious."
Mr. Boucher said the United States offered on June 25 to send a delegation to Pyongyang led by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Asia-Pacific affairs. The offer was confirmed two days later in a meeting at North Korea's U.N. mission in New York.
He said the United States asked for "a timely response" so it could prepare for the trip before the July Fourth holiday.
"This has to be organized," Mr. Boucher said. "Tickets have to be bought. People have to get ready to go. Pyongyang is not on the shuttle. You don't just drive down to National Airport and hop the flight."
He said the talks would focus on missile development and sales, nuclear developments, issues of ties to terrorism, and of conventional forces on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea invited a U.S. delegation to Pyongyang on April 27, but it took Washington nearly two months to respond. Several U.S. officials said in interviews during the past several weeks that the delay was caused by a split within the administration on how to deal with the communist state, branded by President Bush as part of an "axis of evil."
An administration official said yesterday that discussions were held Monday on whether to withdraw the proposal for a visit next week. He said it was a "bruising day" at the State Department, with fierce "battles" between hawkish and dovish policy-makers.
North Korea is on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, although officials have said that it has reduced its involvement with terrorist organizations significantly in the past several years.
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright visited Pyongyang in October 2000, and President Clinton hoped to make a trip just before the end of his term. However, his advisers said conditions for a presidential visit were not ripe.
The Bush administration froze contacts with Pyongyang when it assumed office in January 2001. After a policy review, however, it said a year ago that it was ready to resume dialogue.
Mr. Boucher said that policy was still in force and did not rule out a future visit.
"Obviously, we'll watch how events develop and we'll see what they do, and consider rescheduling at some point in the future," he said.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it was "pretty clear" that the naval incident was prompted when a North Korean vessel entered South Korean waters.
"Whether it was intentional, a mistake on their part or anything, I'm not in a position to say," he said.
"It is pretty clear that the North Korean vessel came south into areas that are beyond the demilitarized the projection of the demilitarized zone, and that there was a clash, that a boat was sunk, and that people were killed," the defense secretary said.
He said the United States had "every reason to believe that the North Korean ship was well south."
South Korean President Kim Dae-jung yesterday demanded an apology for the naval incident from the North Korean government, as well as punishment of those responsible for it.
In a televised address to the nation, he pledged to boost military surveillance of North Korea and mobilize "all possible means" to secure peace and stability on the peninsula.
"North Korea would suffer grave consequences if it tries to commit another armed provocation," he said.
But critics charged that Mr. Kim's "unconditional" policy of seeking reconciliation with the North was to blame for the naval battle and cited the South Korean military's "slow-footed" response.
Opposition parties demanded that Defense Minister Kim Dong-shin be fired and called for a review of the president's Nobel Prize-winning "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North.


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