- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday expressed hope that its dialogue with North Korea would begin with "technical" talks and insisted its latest offer of energy aid to Pyongyang did not amount to a concession.
At the same time, North Korea's envoy to Moscow held out the possibility that his government would allow Washington to inspect its nuclear facilities if it "renounces its hostile policies."
The idea of technical talks, expected to focus on issues such as the verification of North Korean compliance with nuclear safeguards, was proposed over the weekend by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat. The former U.N. ambassador held several meetings last week with the North's deputy representative to the United Nations, Han Song-ryol.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, when asked whether there would be such talks, said: "We hope so. The United States has said that we are willing to talk, and this remains an offer that North Korea has yet to act upon."
The administration softened its stance toward the reclusive state a week ago by announcing its willingness to talk, while insisting this did not mean "negotiations."
"The United States is willing to talk, not negotiate," Mr. Fleischer repeated yesterday. "North Korea wants to take the world through its blackmail playbook, but we won't play."
He rejected suggestions that an offer to provide energy aid to the North if it abandons its nuclear pursuits is a concession inconsistent with the administration's policy.
James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in Seoul, "Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area."
Mr. Fleischer said there was "a perfect consistency" between Mr. Kelly's remarks and a joint statement last week with Japan and South Korea announcing Washington's willingness to talk to the North.
"We are willing to talk about North Korea dismantling its facilities and coming back into international compliance with their obligations," Mr. Fleischer said. "Once they do that, then at that point North Korea can resume its place as a sovereign nation that is respected by other nations."
The United States ended shipments of heavy fuel oil to North Korea provided under a 1994 deal that froze its nuclear activities in response to Pyongyang's development of a secret uranium-enrichment program.
But in the last couple of days, more than three months after Mr. Kelly's visit to Pyongyang where he said officials admitted the project's existence, North Korean officials have denied such a program exists.
Pak Ui-chun, the North's ambassador to Moscow, said yesterday his government was ready to prove it did not have a clandestine uranium-enrichment program.
"If the United States renounces its hostile policies and nuclear threats against North Korea, then we do not exclude the possibility of proving through separate checks conducted between the United States and North Korea that we are not producing nuclear weapons," the Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Mr. Pak as saying.
Separately, Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said yesterday that Washington would not resume food aid to North Korea until it agreed to allow random and independent monitoring of deliveries.
Specifically, he said, the United States, which makes its contributions through the U.N. World Food Program, wants the U.N. agency to hire independent translators and undertake a nutritional survey that is not based on North Korean government statistics.
"There will be a food aid program from the United States if they agree to and implement" these standards, Mr. Natsios told reporters at the United Nations. He stressed that the current nuclear standoff had nothing to do with food deliveries.
Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this article.


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