- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 18, 2003

The Bush administration said yesterday it has requested no new money to fund fuel and construction aid to North Korea, but added it was undecided over whether to close down the international consortium supplying energy to Pyongyang.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher confirmed that the administration is seeking a minimal $3.5 million in "contingency funding" in its fiscal 2003 budget request for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO), designed to meet the consortium's administrative and salary expenses as negotiators attempt to end the nuclear impasse on the Korean Peninsula.
"We're not prejudging any decision on the organization's future," Mr. Boucher said.
The Senate is debating the budget request as part of a $390 billion omnibus spending bill, and some on Capitol Hill said they believed the money was to be used to shutter KEDO, a key element in the 1994 Clinton administration pact designed to halt North Korea's nuclear-weapons programs.
North Korea's admission in November that it had violated the 1994 deal and its recent decision to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have precipitated a crisis on the heavily armed peninsula and put the future of KEDO in doubt.
The United States has come under increasing pressure to ease its demand that the North drop its nuclear program before any new talks on aid and energy assistance can begin.
South Korea plans a series of direct talks with the North next week on increasing economic and cross-border transportation ties.
South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun told reporters in Seoul that Washington must resume direct talks with Pyongyang if the North's nuclear program is to be dismantled.
"I think the problem can be resolved through dialogue because North Korea is sincere about its willingness to open up and reform. It has no other choice," Mr. Roh said.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov is in Pyongyang this weekend for talks to ease the crisis, but played down earlier talk that Moscow might try to mediate in the standoff.
He said in Beijing yesterday that the situation now requires "quiet diplomacy" and "a resolution on a bilateral level between North Korea and the United States."
In agreeing to fresh Cabinet-level talks with Seoul, North Korean officials said they would only discuss the nuclear issue directly with the United States.
"The real issue should be resolved through talks between North Korea and the United States. It cannot be resolved by the South Koreans," said Cho Chung-han, deputy minister in the North Korean Foreign Ministry.
President Bush this week held out the prospect of new energy subsidies and economic aid to the North if the country abandoned its nuclear programs.
But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer yesterday said North Korea was to blame for the soaring tensions in the region and the failure to date to start new talks.
"We have made it plain that we will talk to North Korea about the dismantling of their programs," he said.
"North Korea has chosen to develop nuclear weapons, to isolate itself from the world, and not to talk to the United States."
Citing Japanese government officials, the Tokyo daily Yomiuri Shimbun yesterday reported that the United States and Japan are considering a tough new offer to North Korea that would require Pyongyang to surrender spent fuel from existing nuclear-power operations to a third country. U.S. and South Korean experts worry the spent fuel can be reprocessed for nuclear weapons.
The deal would also substitute two non-nuclear thermal power plants for the nuclear facilities called for in the 1994 deal.
KEDO, whose executive board members include the United States, Japan, South Korea and the European Union, provides free heating oil to Pyongyang and is building two civilian nuclear-power plants in the North in exchange for a halt to the North's nuclear programs.
The United States says the North's recent admission of a secret parallel nuclear program violates the 1994 accord, while the North has argued that repeated constructions delays have left KEDO in violation of the agreement.
The United States halted fuel-oil shipments in December.
Mr. Boucher said any decision to restart the shipments would require the administration to find new money to boost KEDO's funding in the current fiscal year.
The $3.5 million KEDO request is a fraction of the $75 million U.S. contribution for heating-oil shipments in the previous fiscal year.

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