- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea, Jan. 19 (UPI) — The United States Sunday offered North Korea another olive branch in an attempt to defuse tensions that were sparked by Pyongyang's admission of a nuclear weapons program and its withdrawal from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

"If (the North Koreans) satisfy our concerns about the nuclear programs, we are prepared to consider a broad approach," Thomas Hubbard, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, told the south's Korean Broadcasting System. "That would entail, in the final analysis, some economic cooperation, perhaps in the power field."

Hubbard's comments are the second time this week that Washington has tried to defuse the crisis.

Earlier this week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said energy aid could follow a North Korean reversal of policy.

"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," Kelly said in Seoul where he was as part of a diplomatic effort to resolve the crisis.

But the North Koreans rejected that offer as a "a deceptive drama," meant "to mislead the world public opinion."

Washington's "loudmouthed supply of energy and food aid are like a painted cake pie in the sky as they are possible only after the DPRK is totally disarmed," it said, referring to North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

There was no immediate response to Hubbard's comments Sunday.

The international community is keen the crisis be resolved through diplomatic means. Pyongyang is already believed by the CIA to possess one or two nuclear weapons.

Speaking Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blizer," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said diplomatic means continue with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other organizations and nations.

"I think we are seeing some progress with respect to the work we are doing with our friends in the region. This is an international problem; it's not just a problem between the United States and North Korea," Powell said.

"It's between North Korea and its neighbors and the international community, IAEA, the U.N. as well as the United States, and we're working with all of those parties."

Diplomatic efforts include a planned summit between North and South Korea, Jan. 21-24. The Chinese and Russians are also sending envoys to North Korea for talks, and Australian and U.N. diplomats have all been in Pyongyang recently. Lacking formal diplomatic relations with the hermitic Communist regime, Washington has relied in some part on China and Russia to bring pressure to bear on the North.

The foreign policy conundrum in Asia erupted late last year when the United States said Pyongyang had acknowledged to Kelly and other officials it had violated the 1994 Framework Agreement with Washington to scrap North Korea's nuclear weapons program in return for economic assistance.

North Korea, Washington said, had begun a program to produce uranium-enriched nuclear material suitable for weapons soon after it signed the 1994 pact, which shuttered a nuclear reactor that produced plutonium, provided for nuclear inspections and led to the sealing of spent fuel rods, from which the weapons-grade plutonium could be extracted.

The admission, which North Korea denied last week, came after Kelly presented North Korea with intelligence evidence of the enrichment program during a visit to Pyongyang.

Two weeks ago, North Korea walked out of the NPT after expelling international weapons inspectors. It also threatened to restart its missile-testing program.

It said any imposition of economic sanctions against it would be considered war. Pyongyang wants a formal non-aggression pledge from Washington as well as direct talks and other concessions.

U.S. officials have said, however, that any talks — whether direct or through third parties — would not be negotiations, but only discussions on how Pyongyang would go about dismantling its nuclear program.

On Sunday, however, the official North Korean news agency said any dialogue must be bilateral.

North Korea and the United States "should sit face-to-face to solve the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, as it was authored by the latter," the statement on the Korean Central News Agency said. "The internationalization of this issue would make the prospect of its settlement more complicated and gloomy."

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