- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

SAN JOSE, Calif. The White House yesterday announced that the United States will resume talks with North Korea, one of the countries President Bush has said constitutes an "axis of evil" bent on threatening the world with weapons of mass destruction.
"The Permanent Mission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the United Nations has informed the State Department that the DPRK is prepared to begin talks with the United States," spokesman Ari Fleischer said in a statement.
"The United States will work to determine the timing and other details in the coming days," he said.
Several administration sources said the U.S. team is likely to be led by State Department special envoy Jack Pritchard, but the White House has not said who will be chosen.
The administration's announcement that it was willing to resume talks with North Korea came as Mr. Bush was in California touting his "compassionate conservative" agenda.
Nearly a year ago, Mr. Bush proposed talks with North Korea to address U.S. concerns over the communist nation's missile program and refusal to enter a dialogue with South Korea.
In February a month after the president labeled Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil" Mr. Bush visited the demilitarized zone between the two countries. At a hilltop combat post just 80 feet from the DMZ, Mr. Bush was told about the so-called Peace Museum visible nearby, where North Korea displays two axes used to kill two U.S. soldiers 25 years ago.
"No wonder I think they're evil," he said after peering through binoculars at the building.
But Mr. Bush, in a joint press conference with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung that day, said: "I'm willing to have a dialogue with North Korea. I've made that offer before, yet there has been no response."
North Korea's offer to resume talks after 18 months comes amid a public relations blitz by Pyongyang, which has been split from South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War.
During the last few days, 99 families that were separated during the Korean War have held reunions with long-lost relatives at Diamond Mountain, a resort on North Korea's east coast. Nearly 500 South Koreans are scheduled to depart today for North Korea by ship for similar reunions with 100 relatives.
The reunions are the culmination of an early April mission to Pyongyang by a South Korean presidential envoy, who met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and quoted him as saying the communist state was ready to talk with Seoul's allies.
In addition, North Korean and Japanese Red Cross organizations said yesterday the North will resume a search for 11 Japanese nationals Tokyo says were kidnapped by Pyongyang. The pledge came after two days of talks in Beijing between the longtime foes.
"The North Korean side has agreed to undertake an in-depth investigation into the whereabouts of the missing individuals, as requested by the Japanese side, in cooperation between central authorities and Red Cross organizations," the two agencies said in a joint statement.
However, Japan sounded a more cautious note.
"It's premature to assess the future course of our bilateral relations with North Korea," Kenji Hiramatsu, director of Northeast Asian Affairs at the Japanese Foreign Ministry, said in Beijing.
Since taking office, Mr. Bush has criticized North Korea for breaking promises to work with South Korea. At a historic summit in June 2000 between the leaders of North and South Korea, Pyongyang made some 20 agreements but has since followed through on just two of them.
Mr. Bush saw a stark example of the broken promises during his visit to South Korea earlier this year. He delivered a speech at a railway station near the DMZ, where the railway and an adjacent highway abruptly stop at the 38th parallel. The North, which has been ravaged by famine as it continues a massive military buildup, stopped construction on both for lack of money despite its pledge to continue work on the project.
"Korean children should never starve while a massive army is fed. No nation should be a prison for its own people," Mr. Bush said at Dorasan Train Station, a few hundred yards from the 155-mile-long, 2-mile-wide buffer between the two nations.
"[South Korean] President Kim has just shown me a road he built a road for peace. And he has shown me where that road abruptly ends right at the DMZ," Mr. Bush said.
The president said the road "has the potential to bring the peoples on both sides of this divided land together, and for the good of all the Korean people, the North should finish it."
The United States has 37,600 soldiers buttressing a South Korean military of 690,000. Estimates place the North Korean military at more than 1 million soldiers.
In speeches across the United States, Mr. Bush often warns Americans that some nations are trying to join forces with terrorist organizations. He always follows the line with a pledge that America will not allow "dangerous regimes to threaten freedom with weapons of mass destruction."
North Korea's Mr. Kim has been equally fierce in his rhetoric, calling Mr. Bush the head of "an empire of evil" and "the most bellicose and heinous" president ever.
Also yesterday, Mr. Bush delivered a speech at Parkside Hall in San Jose, touting his "compassionate conservatism," which combines help for less fortunate Americans with demands for accountability.
"It is compassionate to actively help our fellow citizens in need. It is conservative to insist on responsibility and on results. And with this hopeful approach, we can make a real difference in people's lives," the president said.
Mr. Bush reiterated his proposal to expand the role of religious groups in government social services, now stalled in the Senate; his focus on education as a key to escaping poverty; and his welfare plan, which would require more work from recipients.
The president also attended a fund-raiser for California's Republican gubernatorial nominee, Bill Simon. The appearance brought in about $1.8 million.

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