- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The chief U.S. negotiator on North Korea said yesterday that he would visit Pyongyang only after it shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, although the North’s recent missile tests have lessened the chances for a trip in the near future.

Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, also expressed concern that the North Koreans “may not even want a deal” on their nuclear program.

“We would consider a trip if it would serve our interest to do so,” Mr. Hill told editors and reporters at a luncheon at The Washington Times.

“But our concern is that North Korea is continuing to run a nuclear reactor whose purpose is to make bombs, and to be talking to them while they are making bombs doesn’t appear to be in our interest,” he said.

Mr. Hill, who visited China, Japan and South Korea last week to discuss a response to the North’s July 4 missile tests, said that the launches “have made the issue of a Pyongyang trip maybe not all that relevant right now.”

The North has refused to participate in the six-nation talks, which also include the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia, since September, saying that Washington needs to abandon its “hostile policies” first.

The foreign ministers of all six nations are due in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, next week for a regional security forum, and Mr. Hill said he hopes to discuss North Korea.

“There is a good reason to get together at five, if necessary. I prefer six, frankly, but five is better than none,” he said, referring to North Korea’s boycott of the negotiations.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to attend the gathering, he noted, although her planned stops in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul may have to be canceled if she goes to the Middle East to deal with the crisis in Lebanon.

Mr. Hill rejected accusations that the Bush administration — whose position is that bilateral meetings can be held only in the context of the six-party talks — has not had enough direct contacts with North Korea.

“We’ve met with them in separate rooms, at very big conference tables, in a very dignified setting. We’ve had plenty of bilateral meetings,” he said, adding that he had a private dinner with the North Korean negotiator in Beijing.

“This is about some misplaced concept that somehow we don’t give them enough respect. I think they are really trying to gut the process,” he said.

Asked whether Pyongyang could be stalling the process hoping for a better deal with the next U.S. administration, Mr. Hill said: “The more fundamental problem is, they are not sure they want a deal, rather than they want a better deal.”

He also said that the “defensive measures” in a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted Saturday in response to the missile tests are not sufficient “to address the threat posed by North Korea” and must be backed by a “diplomatic track.”

The resolution forbids U.N. members from providing financing or materials to the reclusive state that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Hill pointed out that, even though the long-range Taepodong-2 missile the North tested was unsuccessful, “the Scuds were fired off and everything went pretty well.”

North Korea fired seven missiles in all.

“Our best understanding of the Chinese is that they did not know about the missile launch [in advance],” he said, noting that Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, did not want to meet with a Chinese delegation in Pyongyang last week.

“They take their money,” he said in a reference to the substantial aid China gives North Korea, “they just don’t take their advice.”

The goal of the Bush administration’s diplomacy on North Korea is to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, Mr. Hill said. But if that does not work, the six-nation negotiations would have been worthwhile because the other participants will be in a better position to take other measures against the North.

“What we want to see is that the other partners have come to that conclusion with us, because they’ve had the same negotiating experience we’ve had,” Mr. Hill said.

“Some of those partners, in coming to that conclusion, I think would be in a strong position to take stronger action,” he said.

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