- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

North Korea is ready to negotiate an end to the standoff with the United States, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said yesterday, despite what he called Pyongyang's talk of a "holy war" against America and threats to resume nuclear missile tests.
Mr. Richardson, who on Saturday finished three days of talks with North Korean diplomats in Santa Fe, said they assured him that Pyongyang wanted to improve relations with the United States and that it was not going to build nuclear weapons. The governor also said they were ready to negotiate the verification of some of North Korea's nuclear reprocessing facilities.
"Right now, they're intensifying the rhetoric, they're laying out their cards, they're being belligerent, in preparation, I believe, for a negotiation," Mr. Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on ABC's "This Week," adding, "They always do that."
"But at the same time, they are sending comments through me, and I believe through other channels, that they're ready to talk, that they're ready to negotiate on taking steps to get verification of their nuclear weapons, that they're taking steps to ease the tension," said Mr. Richardson, who served as energy secretary in the Clinton administration.
Those assurances come just days after the communist country withdrew from the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It also has expelled international weapons inspectors, and threatened to resume long-range missile tests and to begin reprocessing spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor to make atomic weapons.
Mr. Richardson met Han Song-ryol, a high-ranking member of the North Korean delegation to the United Nations, and others for nine hours over three days late last week. He said that he briefed Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who authorized the talks.
Mr. Richardson, a Democrat, has a history of negotiations with the North Koreans that includes brokering the release of a U.S. soldier in 1994 whose helicopter had entered the country's airspace and the release in 1996 of a young U.S. citizen held on spying charges.
The administration has said that it is willing to talk but not negotiate with North Korea, a country President Bush last year branded as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran.
Mr. Richardson suggested yesterday the establishment of a bilateral nonaggression pact that would say that the United States will not attack North Korea, in exchange for such steps as the country freezing its nuclear program and allowing the return of international inspectors. "The North Koreans said they're ready to do that, but only after a negotiation," he said.
Mr. Richardson said North Korea most probably aims to garner food assistance and investment from Western countries. The country's only bargaining chips are its nuclear weapons, uranium reprocessing facilities and the 1.5 million troops on the border it shares with South Korea.
"So they use those cards to get what they want," Mr. Richardson said. "They also have a mind-set that they demand international respect. They want to deal directly with the United States, not with South Korea. They want to be considered big, major powers."
However, Mr. Richardson said, that doesn't mean the United States should give in to North Korean demands.
But, "we do have to recognize that this is a nuclear power, that it's in our national interest to talk to them, to ease tensions in Asia, to have South Korea, our strong ally, not in the cusp of an invasion," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, appearing on "This Week," said that he was reluctant to have the United States make an immediate commitment to a security guarantee.
"I don't know that anything needs to be signed at this point," said Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "I think that ought to be the subject of discussions. I don't think we ought to commit to anything until we are absolutely confident that they are going to dismantle that nuclear assembly line."
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, warned officials in Washington not to rule out the use of force against North Korea. He also called for economic sanctions.
"It would be a mistake to rule out military action today, although it must be the last, last option, because of the threat that we face," Mr. McCain said on "This Week."
"But our first step should be to go to the United Nations, ask for multilateral sanctions against North Korea."
Mr. Richardson, however, dismissed the need for sanctions and said that Washington should not take Pyongyang's rhetoric about war seriously. Stepping up the rhetoric was a tactic, he said. "They make threats. [They say] 'We're going to have a holy war.'"
"They don't negotiate like we do," he said. "They don't have our same mentality."
A U.S. official, who spoke to Reuters news agency on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Richardson was "not speaking on behalf of the U.S. government, nor conveying a message from the U.S. government."
"We've made clear our views. The president said again and again that he has no intention of invading North Korea," the official said.
Mr. Richardson urged Mr. Bush to open talks with Pyongyang to help ease the tensions.
"So what I think the administration needs to do, with all due respect, is just pick up the phone, start the preliminary talks at the U.N. in New York at a low level to set up broader talks that address these issues," he said.
Mr. Richardson said that he supports the way the Bush administration has handled the deadlock with North Korea. "I support their policy," he said. "They've now moved from containment, isolation, to a direct dialogue."

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