- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

With the bucolic setting of President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, in the background, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and Mr. Bush will have little time for the small pleasantries that characterized summits in the past. Instead, these leaders will have to address North Korea's admission that it has gone nuclear.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Jiang are expected to express substantively different ideas on how to deal with a nuclear North Korea. Still, Mr. Bush knows that China has a potentially constructive role in mediating a resolution to North Korea's treaty-violating drive to develop nuclear weapons.

Last month, this page raised an alarm over North Korea's bait-and-switch routine with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency responsible under the 1994 Agreed Framework to verify that the regime was not building nuclear weapons. The IAEA convinced North Korea to give its inspectors wider access to facilities, but agency director Piet de Klerk said that, due to the regime's resistance, the agency was "unable to give any assurances that there were no nuclear activities in North Korea." Scheduled talks with the regime were canceled indefinitely.

Mr. de Klerk's inability to verify North Korea's compliance highlights the main weakness of the 1994 agreement that the Clinton administration reached with the North Korean regime. Under the 1994 deal, North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear-weapons program in exchange for two light-water nuclear reactors that were financed by the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries. But the agreement didn't require the regime to submit to the comprehensive IAEA inspections until "key nuclear components" for the reactors were delivered. The caveat allowed North Korea to continue its clandestine nuclear-weapons program.

The Bush administration is wisely taking a tougher stance than the Clinton administration. Also, it is striking a coordinated international response to the North Korean crisis but China will probably be the dissenter. South Korea and Japan will likely favor a clear-eyed approach to dealing with the regime, tying aid to an unambiguous commitment to inspections, or even supporting U.N. sanctions against North Korea until it honors its international obligations. The Bush administration should deliberate on both options.

U.S. efforts to get North Korea to commit to nuclear nonproliferation span four administrations. America seemed poised to go to war with North Korea before the Agreed Framework was signed in 1994. What the United States, South Korea and Japan should avoid is entering a Clintonesque appeasement mill. The resumption of relations with and aid to North Korea must be explicitly, and verifiably, tied to comprehensive inspections.

China's historical ties with Pyongyang and its cultural predispositions will probably lead Mr. Jiang to suggest a conciliatory approach with North Korea. Such a stand may frustrate U.S. officials. Still, like the United States and Russia, China does not want the hermetic North Korean regime with nuclear arms. So, in that sense, China shares America's concerns. Strengthened U.S.-China cooperation on policy toward North Korea would intimidate Pyongyang more than a fragmented approach. That is the common ground it is hoped Mr. Bush and Mr. Jiang will reach in Crawford.

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