- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

NEW YORK The Bush administration is divided on whether to accept an invitation to begin talks with North Korea, with some officials urging the White House to wait until it is convinced of the communist nation's "sincerity."
The discord explains why the administration has not yet scheduled a tentative date for a visit by a U.S. envoy to Pyongyang nearly a month after it was proposed by the North, a senior official said yesterday.
Officials have said publicly that internal logistics are delaying the trip.
"We are still gauging how sincere the North Koreans are, especially after they canceled the next round of economic cooperation talks with the South this month," the official said from Washington. "There is no consensus in the administration on the way forward."
Another official, however, said there is a general agreement among senior members of the administration that dialogue should begin shortly.
The North Korean mission to the United Nations informed the State Department in a late April phone call that they wanted to resume dialogue, which was frozen when President Bush took office.
The White House responded that it would "work to determine the timing and other details in the coming days."
The first official said most people at the State Department and some in the National Security Council (NSC) are in favor of going ahead with a visit to Pyongyang to begin talks.
The Pentagon and some at the State Department and NSC are opposed. The "hard-line camp" has suggested that accepting the North's invitation at this time would be "appeasement," the first official said.
Opposition to an immediate resumption of talks turned out to be stronger than expected, considering the fact that Washington had been waiting for the North's response since last June.
Then, for the first time since assuming office, the administration said it was ready to begin dialogue "at any time, anyplace, without preconditions."
Mr. Bush has since branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" and the White House has accused it of selling missiles and missile technology "to just about anybody who will buy."
"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," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told reporters in February.
If and when a delegation to Pyongyang is announced, it is expected to be headed by Charles L. Pritchard, the State Department's special envoy for North Korea.
Washington and Pyongyang "are moving toward opening a dialogue on a broad range of issues," Mr. Pritchard told the annual conference of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) yesterday.
The international consortium founded by the United States, Japan and South Korea is responsible for implementing a 1994 accord that froze the North's nuclear weapons program and promised to build two modern atomic power plants in the North.
In addition, Mr. Pritchard urged the KEDO members, which also include the European Union, Australia, Canada and Poland, to increase their contributions to the organization's budget.
South Korea, which has given $605 million, is so far the biggest donor to the $4.6 billion project, followed by the United States with $311 million and Japan with $293 million.


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