- The Washington Times - Monday, June 26, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said yesterday that the Bush administration should talk directly with North Korea as concerns grow over a launch of a missile that could reach the U.S.

Senators also rejected the suggestion by a former defense secretary that the U.S. make a pre-emptive strike against a North Korean missile.

“We are not anywhere close to talking about attacking North Korea, and we should shut up and stop it,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican.

“We need to talk directly with North Korea. The sooner we do that, the sooner we’re going to get this resolved,” Mr. Hagel, the second-ranking Republican on the committee, told CNN’s “Late Edition.”

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar, also spoke out against attacking the missile while it is on the ground.

“It would be advisable to bring about a much greater intensification of diplomacy, and this may involve direct talks between the United States and North Korea,” said Mr. Lugar, Indiana Republican.

North Korea long has wanted direct meetings with the United States, but Washington has refused, insisting it will meet with the North Koreans only in the context of six-nation international talks aimed at ridding the communist country of its nuclear-weapons program.

Mr. Lugar said he respected those talks, which are stalled, but “nevertheless, with regard to a missile that might have a range of the United States, that becomes a very specific United States-North Korean issue.”

“We’re going to have to come to a point where we find at least an agenda to talk with North Korea about, and I think we are moving toward that,” Mr. Lugar told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Intelligence reports say fuel tanks have been seen around a missile at North Korea’s launch site on the northeastern coast.

The potential test is thought to be of a Taepodong-2 missile, which the U.S. government estimates has a range of between 5,000 miles and 7,500 miles.

Sen. John W. Warner, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said yesterday that he had been speaking with the White House, “and, frankly, we don’t know exactly what the status is, whether it’s been fully refueled or what the problem is.”

“The weather is closing in now, which would not make it an optimal time to try and test it,” Mr. Warner, Virginia Republican, told “Fox News Sunday.”

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware urged close U.S. contact with South Korea and Japan as events unfold.

“If we were to strike a missile and that resulted in an artillery retaliation, killing thousands of people in South Korea, it would be a very big deal,” said Mr. Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Direct talks with North Korea may not work, he said, but would be “a better way of approaching this and finding what the bottom line is than this brinksmanship.”

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