- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 13 (UPI) — A U.S. envoy said Monday Washington would address North Korea's energy shortages if North Korea resolves concerns over its nuclear weapons program.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State James Kelly also said the Bush administration was prepared to talk with North Korea on a wide-range of issues.

"Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the United States, with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area," Kelly told a news conference in Seoul after talks with South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun.

Although U.S. officials have previously said they would not reward bad behavior by negotiating with North Korea on aid and better ties before it agrees to abandon its nuclear ambitions, the White House said Monday Kelley's comments were not a departure from previous policy.

"… Except for the fact that he cited one specific sector of what (the communiqu) previously said on the record, I see no difference," spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

South Korean officials said Kelly's hint of energy aid was unlikely a concession to Pyongyang, but a restatement of U.S. offers of humanitarian help for starving North Koreans once the nuclear issue was resolved.

"Possible energy aid would raise the possibility that the United States would strike a deal with North Korea to resolve the nuclear standoff," a senior official at the Foreign Ministry told United Press International on condition of anonymity.

North Korea has suffered chronic energy shortage, which has worsened since U.S.-led allies stopped fuel oil shipments in December to punish North Korea for secretly seeking nuclear weapons. North Korea has accused the United States of using humanitarian aid as a weapon in the standoff over its nuclear program.

Under a 1994 deal, the United States agreed to give North Korea light-water reactors and an annual shipment of 500,000 tons of heavy oil as alternative energy sources. In return, North Korea pledged to freeze operations at its nuclear facilities.

But the agreement is on verge of nullification as North Korea recently renewed its nuclear ambitions. Pyongyang withdrew from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty last week and has threatened to resume long-range missile tests.

North Korea has indicated it may rethink the decision to withdraw from the proliferation pact if the United States resumes oil shipments to the North, saying its nuclear activity was aimed purely at producing much-needed electricity.

Kelly, who is visiting Seoul as President Bush's special envoy on North Korea, stressed the U.S. policy of ruling out a military strike, saying Washington was willing to talk to North Korea "about their response to the international community" on the nuclear issue.

"We are, of course, willing to talk to North Korea about their response to the international community, particularly with respect to elimination of nuclear weapons and we are going to be talking here with government people over how are some of the best ways to do that," he said.

Roh, who takes office Feb. 25, explained to Kelly his incoming government would not accept a nuclear North Korea and wanted to play a leading role in crafting a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Kelly's visit came amid growing anti-U.S. sentiment in South Korea. That trend has triggered concerns that decades-long security alliance between Seoul and Washington may be undermined.

In an effort to repair the damaged security ties, Roh, who once called for the withdrawal of 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, vowed to keep close security ties with Washington.

"Seoul-Washington alliance has been, is and will be important," Roh told Kelly, adding the U.S. military presence on the Korean peninsula is still required. He expressed hope that the United States will remain an ally of South Korea.

Kelly is scheduled to leave Tuesday for China. He is also to visit Singapore, Indonesia and Japan.

He was greeted Sunday by North Korea's warning of massive retaliation on the U.S. challenge.

"If the United States evades its responsibility and recklessly challenges the DPRK (North Korea), the army and people of the DPRK will never miss the chance but certainly make them pay for the blood and turn the stronghold of the enemy into a sea of fire," the official Rodong Sinmum newspaper said.


(With Richard Tomkins in Washington)

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