- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

In 1965, Kim Jong-il, 25, walked down the stairs of his father's plane, which had just brought North Korean leader Kim Il-sung to Jakarta.

At the airport, while his father and Indonesian President Sukarno were exchanging official greetings, Mr. Kim was welcomed with a bouquet of flowers by Sukarno's 18-year-old daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Yesterday, Mrs. Megawati, now Indonesia's president, arrived in Pyongyang and was greeted by Mr. Kim, who has led North Korea since his father's death in 1994.

As she kicked off her three-day visit two months after President Bush branded the reclusive state part of an "axis of evil," Mrs. Megawati said she hoped her "siblinglike" relationship with Mr. Kim would help her persuade him to resume dialogue with South Korea and the United States.

Mrs. Megawati's diplomatic initiative is the second attempt this week to get the peace effort on the Korean peninsula, divided since the 1950-53 Korean War, back on track.

On Monday, South Korea said it would send an envoy to Pyongyang next week to try to end months of deadlock in its "sunshine policy" of engaging the North and to ease regional tensions before the soccer World Cup finals, which are to be held in South Korea and Japan in June.

In a surprise move, President Kim Dae-jung said he would dispatch close adviser Lim Dong-won for talks that would be conducted "with patience and in a bold manner."

"We expect that his trip to Pyongyang will serve as an occasion to break the current stalemate in the relations between the South and North," Mr. Kim's office said in a statement.

The stalemate seems far from being broken, however.

The Bush administration has been trying to maintain a tough stance on the North while offering to meet at "any time, any place, without preconditions."

But the only diplomatic activity since Mr. Bush's "axis of evil" speech on Jan. 29 has been a routine, low-level meeting with Pyongyang's representative to the United Nations in New York on March 13, which hardly moved the dialogue forward.

"We found the meeting useful," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters. "Both sides agreed to continue their discussions at this level from time to time, and we remain willing to explore North Korea's receptivity to accepting our proposal for a dialogue."

Last week, Mr. Bush made a decision that reflected the complexity and sensitivity of his dual policy. In an attempt to please both North Korea critics in the Republican Party and advocates of cooperation with the Stalinist state, he decided not to certify Pyongyang's compliance with a 1994 nuclear agreement but still ship 500,000 tons of fuel oil, as required by the accord.

In the deal, known as the Agreed Framework, the United States agreed to provide North Korea with two modern atomic power plants and yearly shipments of fuel oil until the plants are completed. In exchange, North Korea froze its suspected nuclear weapons program.

The United States, South Korea and Japan established an organization called the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) to implement the framework.

The White House insisted that the decision to waive the certification requirement didn't mean the United States had evidence that North Korea was violating the agreement only that Washington did not have enough information to make a judgment.

"It's a strong message to North Korea that they need to comply with their international obligations and agreements," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been monitoring the facilities shut down in 1994 an experimental gas-graphite power reactor, a fuel-fabrication facility and a reprocessing plant. But Washington is concerned that Pyongyang hasn't provided a record of plutonium the primary fuel needed to make atom bombs and that it may be hiding nuclear bomb-making materials.

A small group of U.S. lawmakers who oppose re-engagement with North Korea urged Mr. Bush last month to cancel plans to provide the two light-water reactors, charging that Pyongyang was developing nuclear weapons.

The $4.6 billion project was supposed to be finished by next year, but delays have pushed back completion until at least 2008.

"North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons," said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman, New York Republican. "A nuclear-armed North Korea would pose a grave threat to our nation and our allies."

Wendy Sherman, the Clinton administration's top official on North Korea, praised Mr. Bush for allowing the fuel-oil shipments to continue, but questioned the effectiveness of the signal he was sending Pyongyang.

"This is not the best way to send a message. The North Koreans are not likely to hear it in nuances and subtleties," said Mrs. Sherman, who has met with Kim Jong-il and accompanied Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on her October 2000 visit to Pyongyang.

Another former U.S. official who was involved in the Korean peace talks said the North was "very cautious about entering into negotiations" at this time, because it was in a "terribly weak position militarily, economically and politically."

"Negotiation from such a starting point is to be feared, not embraced," the official said in an interview. "Some Western thinking is that if you are weak, obviously you should negotiate because it's better than all other outcomes. But in the North Koreans' mindset, it's the opposite. For them, being isolated is culturally appealing. It makes sense from the ideology of never appearing weak and negotiating from weakness."

He said the North's negotiating history has shown that "when they bring things up to the brink, demonstrate that they are prepared to endure any hardship, including war, the other side tends to give them concessions." At the end of the day, "you need to give them some victory to take home," he said.

He noted that for North Korea, an improved relationship with the United States is a "prerequisite for finally giving up whatever they may have in the nuclear area."

"What the North Koreans were trading in 1994 was not a freeze of their nuclear facilities in exchange for two light-water reactors and heavy fuel oil. They were giving up any pretentions they may have had to have their own nuclear weapons deterrent in exchange for a new relationship with the United States and South Korea that would provide them an equal measure of security, if not better," he said.

Han Park, a University of Georgia political scientist who was instrumental in securing permission for former President Jimmy Carter to visit North Korea in 1994, agreed that better ties with Washington is Pyongyang's foreign policy priority.

But he said the Bush administration is "not prepared to improve relations drastically," because it is "useful for North Korea to stay where it is. Washington needs a capable nuclear enemy to justify building a missile-defense system."

The White House has dismissed such suggestions, saying the North's track record as a "rogue state" is the reason for Washington's tough position.

North Korea sells missiles and missile technology "to just about anybody who will buy," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters last month. "The North Koreans have been known to go around with glossy brochures about their ballistic missiles. They are stocking a lot of the world right now."

Miss Rice said one "can have a policy that speaks the truth, speaks clearly about the North Korean regime, and yet leaves open the possibility of dialogue." But she warned that the administration wants "dialogue on some specific issues," not "dialogue for the sake of dialogue."

Balbina Hwang, policy analyst on Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, said that by putting the ball in North Korea's court in terms of resuming negotiations, the Bush administration is "leaving room" for South Korea to restart its dialogue.

But Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution, said Washington shouldn't wait for Pyongyang to make the first step, because "they don't have the intellectual infrastructure to devise a reasonable arms-control proposal."

"It would certainly be nice if they agreed to talk and stop insulting us, but as for an actual agenda for action, we'd have to come up with that or nothing is likely to happen.

"You have to expect some spirit of reciprocity and compromise and a desire to reform, but you can't demand of them to take the first step. It's a prescription for paralysis or even worse," Mr. O'Hanlon said.

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