- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

The United States yesterday discussed with close Asian allies South Korea and Japan its decision to resume dialogue with North Korea on abandoning its nuclear weapons pursuits.
"The United States is willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community," said a joint statement released after a meeting at the State Department.
"However, the United States will not provide quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations."
The shift in the U.S. approach from diplomatic isolation to dialogue to the latest nuclear standoff with North Korea was signaled by President Bush on Monday.
A casual remark from him, made publicly after his first Cabinet meeting of the year but reported prominently only by The Washington Times, was the first indication of the administration's softening stance on the issue.
"We'll have dialogue. We've had dialogue with North Korea," Mr. Bush said, citing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's meeting in July with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun during a regional conference in Brunei.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that Washington was making an "unconditional offer to talk to North Korea about how it can meet its international obligations."
He insisted that "talks" and "dialogue" do not mean "negotiations," adding that all Washington is hoping for before any talks begin is for the North Koreans to "indicate that they are willing to abandon" nuclear pursuits.
Wendy Sherman, North Korea policy coordinator in the Clinton administration, said the statement yesterday was "positive" and that it was a "very artful way to say we'll talk about what they need to do. But when you sit down to talk, North Korea will also have something to say."
Since Pyongyang admitted in early October to having secretly developed a uranium-enrichment program in violation of a 1994 nuclear deal with Washington, the Bush administration had been saying there could be no dialogue until that program is completely and verifiably dismantled. The administration also had rejected the need for talks to detail U.S. expectations to the North Koreans, arguing that they know exactly what they had to do.
Mr. Boucher, however, said that "talking to them about how they can do it might be useful."
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."
A senior State Department official said yesterday that the text about Washington's willingness to talk to the North was not a last-minute decision but was put in the joint statement over the weekend.
"We wanted to put the ball firmly in North Korea's court, because this is not a problem between North Korea and the United States, but between North Korea and the world," he said.
However, hours before the U.S. announcement, North Korea ratcheted up its rhetoric, with the official Korean Central News Agency demanding that the United States open talks and saying that economic "sanctions mean a war, and the war knows no mercy." Tens of thousands of North Koreans rallied in a snow-covered plaza in Pyongyang, calling for a stronger military.
"We have made clear we are not asking for economic sanctions," Mr. Boucher said.
The issue of sanctions resurfaced on Monday, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, gave North Korea a last chance to readmit weapons inspectors expelled from the Yongbyon nuclear complex last week and to restore monitoring equipment that had been dismantled.
"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.
North Korea says it had to reopen Yongbyon because the United States suspended shipment of 500 metric tons of heavy fuel oil. Washington agreed to the shipments in 1994 in exchange for the plant shutdown.
At the tripartite meeting yesterday, the U.S. delegation was headed by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. The top South Korean official was Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-shik, and Japan was represented by Mitoji Yabunaka, head of the Foreign Ministry's Bureau of Asian and Oceanic Affairs.
After the meeting, the three delegations briefed diplomats from Europe, Russia, China, Canada and Australia on their discussions.
Officials in Seoul indicated last week that they had a proposal under which Washington would give North Korea formal security assurances and, in return, the North would dismantle its nuclear programs. But there was no mention of such ideas in the joint statement.
The diplomacy between the United States and its Asian allies and other regional powers is set to intensify in the next few weeks. Yim Sung-joon, a foreign policy aide to South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, arrived in Washington yesterday for talks with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Mr. Kelly.
Next week, Mr. Kelly will visit South Korea, Japan and China on a trip initially scheduled for later this week. On Jan. 18, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security affairs, also leaves for the region.
The United States is expected to notify North Korea of its dialogue offer through Pyongyang's mission to the United Nations.
On Monday, three leading Democratic senators sent a letter to Miss Rice, criticizing the administration's North Korea policy as "erratic" and asking her to "come brief the Senate as early as is practical this week."
"One day, administration officials indicate North Korea's actions are a major and urgent threat; the next day we are told the administration does not consider the Korean situation a crisis," said the letter, signed by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan.

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