- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Members of Congress hope to meet with Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s reclusive leader, during a rare visit to Pyongyang next week, the leader of the delegation said yesterday.

The trip, led by Rep. Curt Weldon, Pennsylvania Republican, comes as President Bush promotes a plan in which the United States and four other nations would give North Korea written assurances that it won’t be attacked in exchange for a promise to dismantle its nuclear program.

Mr. Weldon said the delegation will not negotiate on the administration’s behalf, but he hopes it will put a “human face” on U.S.-North Korean relations. He said the bipartisan House delegation strongly supports the Bush administration’s insistence that North Korea end its nuclear program.

“I’m not there to negotiate. We’re there to simply explore ideas,” he said.

Mr. Weldon said he hopes to visit the nuclear complex at Yongbyon, where spent fuel rods could be used to make nuclear bombs. U.S. intelligence officials believe North Korea has one or two nuclear bombs, and that the spent fuel rods could allow it to build several more.

Mr. Weldon and five members had visited Pyongyang from May 30 to June 1, but had not met with Mr. Kim. The group was the first U.S. delegation to visit the country since a nuclear standoff began last October.

Mr. Weldon said he has notified Bush administration officials about the trip, but did not seek their approval. He said administration officials have mixed views about the visit. On Monday, North Korea test-fired an antiship missile off its east coast as Mr. Bush and other leaders were attending an Asian summit in Thailand.

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