Bush Aides Report 'Increasing Doubts' North Korea Will Give Up Nuclear Arms Program
The Bush administration's top negotiators with North Korea said Tuesday that they harbored "increasing doubts" that President Kim Jong Il's government was ready to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for security guarantees and economic incentives.
The envoys, noting that there had been five sessions of talks between an American and a North Korean official at the United Nations in the last 10 months, rejected the idea that more incentives or one-on-one talks would be likely to revive serious negotiations. "I think the real issue here is not that they don't know the benefits, but they simply haven't made the fundamental decision whether they want to give up on being a nuclear state," said Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, speaking at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Hill appeared with Joseph DeTrani, special envoy to the talks with North Korea. The talks, which are sponsored by China and also include Russia, Japan and South Korea as participants, have been boycotted by the government in Pyongyang for nearly a year. Led by Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, several Democratic senators asked whether it was time to shift tactics and offer direct economic incentives to the North - energy and economic assistance have been discussed, but only from Japan and South Korea - or to hold direct talks between the United States and North Korea. Both Mr. Hill and Mr. DeTrani argued that they did not think either tactic would work, based on their analysis of the North's thinking and the fact that there had been repeated one-on-one contacts in New York. But they also said the administration was willing to consider various unspecified options to revive the talks. In separate comments, Mr. Hill appeared to express more frustration than other administration officials have in the past over China's refusal to exert more economic leverage on North Korea. Pressed by the committee's Republican chairman, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, to talk about China's role, Mr. Hill said, "Mr. Chairman, I agree with you that China has been reluctant to use the full range of leverage that we believe China has." He noted that China's trade and investment with North Korea had actually gone up in recent years, in part because North Korea's trade with Japan had gone down. South Korea has also increased its trade and investment. He acknowledged further that without support from South Korea and China, it would be very difficult to impose economic or political penalties on North Korea to get it to change its behavior. Neither nation has supported imposing such penalties. Mr. Hill and Mr. DeTrani also clarified the issue of security guarantees for North Korea, disputing a suggestion by Mr. Biden that the Bush administration withhold such guarantees if North Korea did not improve its human rights record. "As I understand your proposal, security assurances are only, quote, 'provisional' until other issues are addressed, right?" Mr. Biden asked. "Once their nuclear program's eliminated, they will get permanent security assurances," Mr. DeTrani replied. He added, however, that "we are not prepared to have a fully normalized relationship in the absence of movement on these other issues," referring to North Korea's authoritarian practices and brutal suppression of dissent. Mr. DeTrani's comments were significant, because although President Bush has said the administration has "no intention" of attacking North Korea, many conservatives in the administration and in Congress oppose any security guarantees without progress on human rights or even an ousting of Mr. Kim's government. Underscoring the importance that the administration attaches to North Korea's human rights record, the White House said Tuesday that Mr. Bush met Monday with a defector from North Korea, Kang Chol-Hwan, whose memoir, "The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in a North Korean Gulag," recounts his suffering at the hands of the North Korean government. Imprisoned with his family at age 9 in 1977, Mr. Kang was released a decade later, and subsequently escaped to South Korea, where he now works as a journalist and is a vocal critic of the Kim government. Mr. Bush has read Mr. Kang's book and wanted to meet with him in person, said Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Mr. Lugar, among others on the Senate committee, pressed Mr. Hill and Mr. DeTrani to put pressure on China and South Korea to allow more refugees into their country, especially those escaping punishment for political reasons. Both nations have been reluctant to do so for fear of security problems in their countries and out of concern about angering North Korea. Mr. DeTrani said the administration had made "some progress" on that issue.