- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

President Bush said yesterday that the United States "will have dialogue" with North Korea, voicing publicly earlier private remarks by U.S. officials suggesting that Washington cannot avoid direct talks with Pyongyang in their latest nuclear standoff.
Although the White House was quick to remind reporters of its demand that North Korea abandon its nuclear pursuits before any dialogue can take place, Mr. Bush's brief comments were his administration's first public recognition of the need for talks.
"We'll have dialogue. We've had dialogue with North Korea," the president told reporters shortly after his first Cabinet meeting of the year. He cited Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's meeting in July with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun during a regional conference in Brunei.
At the State Department yesterday, senior U.S. diplomats consulted with their South Korean and Japanese counterparts on how to persuade the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.
James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, held talks with South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-shik and with Mitoji Yabunaka, the head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Bureau of Asian and Oceanian Affairs, with three-sided talks set for today.
Mr. Bush did not detail when and how the dialogue would begin. A White House official sought to play down the remarks, saying, "We've made very clear that a prerequisite for dialogue is that [the North Koreans] dismantle their nuclear weapons program, live up to what they said they would do in the first place."
Another official said that he doubted the president, whose administration has insisted that it would not be dragged to the negotiating table by nuclear blackmail, was announcing a new policy.
But late last week, U.S. officials conceded in private conversations that it was becoming clear Washington would have to agree to a meeting with the North Koreans sooner or later if the situation is to be resolved peacefully.
"In the short term, they win in both cases," one administration official said. "If we negotiate and give them security guarantees, they win. If we don't negotiate, they will probably develop nuclear weapons in the next six to eight months."
The official said the North Korean issue is most likely to end up in the U.N. Security Council, and "there will probably be pressure from other council members" for direct U.S.-North Korea dialogue to make the best of a resolution demanding the end of Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
Pyongyang early today repeated its demand for direct talks with Washington, saying through the state news agency that "the U.S. should opt for dialogue with [North Korea], not for war, clearly aware that it will have to pay a very high price for such reckless acts."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, issued the strongly worded resolution at a meeting of its board of governors yesterday, urging North Korea to readmit inspectors expelled from the Yongbyon nuclear complex last week.
"Unless [North Korea] takes all necessary steps to allow the agency to implement all the required safeguards measures, [it] will be in further non-compliance with its safeguards agreement," said the document, which was supported by all 35 members of the board, including Cuba and Iran.
"If they continue their policy of defiance, the board will be bound to refer the matter to the Security Council. And then all options are open to the council under its charter, including economic sanctions and the use of other means. But I hope it will not come to that," said IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei.
A diplomatic source close to the agency said that some Bush administration officials wanted the resolution yesterday to find North Korea in "noncompliance," but when the U.S. mission to the IAEA explained that such language meant the case had to go to the Security Council automatically, the officials backed off.
A senior State Department official said the United States is "not pushing" for a meeting of the Security Council, which is now focused on Iraq.
Last month, North Korea broke seals of and disabled monitoring equipment put in place by the United Nations at the Yongbyon complex, which is capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium and is located 55 miles north of the capital. On New Year's Eve, it expelled two IAEA inspectors.
The North blamed the reopening of Yongbyon on the suspension of 500 metric tons of heavy fuel oil, which the reclusive state had been receiving for free from the United States. Washington agreed to the shipments in 1994 in exchange for Yongbyon's shutdown.
In early October, during the first visit of Bush administration officials to Pyongyang, North Korea admitted to having secretly developed a uranium-enrichment program. Washington then said it would not resume talks until that effort is completely and verifiably ended.
U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats are scheduled to hold a joint session today at the State Department, after which they are expected to issue a statement. But U.S. officials said no significant decisions will come out of the meeting.
A U.S. official said the South Korean delegation did not present a proposal yesterday to end the standoff, although officials in Seoul indicated last week that part of their plan is for Washington to give North Korea formal security assurances and promise to resume the supplies of free energy. In return, the North would dismantle its nuclear programs.
"South Korea is urging the Bush administration to pursue the same policy of engagement that was for the most part working until 2000," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "They are suggesting a formal letter of nonaggression, expressing what Mr. Bush has already said. The apparent basis seems to provide an excellent starting point to ending the immediate crisis."

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