- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Senate Democrats — long opposed to President Bush’s six-nation talks with North Korea — yesterday offered faint praise for a new agreement to halt the rogue regime’s nuclear program.

“This is a first step, but still can’t fix the mess this administration has created by ignoring North Korea for the past five years,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

“We need to see more active diplomacy from the Bush administration in North Korea and throughout the world.”

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 demanded “bilateral talks” with North Korea, also called the agreement a “good first step.”

“Under the Bush administration, North Korea has gone from possessing enough fuel to build one or two nuclear weapons to enough for 10,” he said.

“Unless the Bush administration continues to engage North Korea — and stays focused on working diplomatically to find long-term solutions — we are likely to be dealing with this issue again in 12 months.”

Under the agreement, which has yet to be ratified by the six nations, North Korea — which rattled the world in December when it tested a nuclear bomb — would shut down its main nuclear plant in Yongbyon in exchange for tons of heavy oil, humanitarian aid and normalized diplomatic relations with the United States and Japan.

The agreement also drew criticism from the right. Mr. Bush’s former ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, said it’s too close to the 1994 deal that Pyongyang eventually ignored.

Mr. Bush’s press secretary, Tony Snow, said the agreement may “represent the best opportunity to use diplomacy to address North Korea’s nuclear programs.”

He also stressed the importance of the negotiations’ six-way framework, in which China, Russia, Japan and South Korea join the United States in talks with North Korea.

“One thing that [Pyongyang] discovered is that this is no longer the two-party process with the United States and North Koreans, where the North Koreans can try to leverage the United States against allies in the region,” he told reporters at a White House briefing.

In June 2005 — a year after the six-way talks started — Mr. Reid and other Senate Democrats sent a letter to the president charging that “no real progress has been made” and calling for a direct U.S. dialogue with North Korea.

Mr. Reid said yesterday that his view of the talks had not changed.

“Diplomacy works,” he said.

On the campaign trail in 2004, Mr. Kerry said the six-nation negotiations had failed.

“I want bilateral talks,” he said in a September 2004 debate with Mr. Bush at the University of Miami.

Mr. Bush replied, “I can’t tell you how big a mistake I think that is, to have bilateral talks with North Korea. That’s precisely what [North Korean dictator] Kim Jong-il wants.”

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