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Democrats Urge Bush Admin To Hold Direct North Korea Nuclear Talks January 18, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Democrats called the Bush administration policy on North Korea a failure Thursday, saying more efforts to directly engage the North were needed to rid the country of its nuclear weapons.

At a House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, former U.S. President Bill Clinton’s defense secretary, William Perry, also told lawmakers that the U.S. must negotiate with North Korea with a “credible coercive element” that includes the threat of a military attack on the North’s nuclear plant.

Democrats, who took congressional power earlier this month from U.S. President George W. Bush’s Republican party, urged direct negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. outside of the framework of the six-nation negotiating process favored by the Bush administration.

Rep. Tom Lantos, the committee’s Democratic chairman, said that North Korea’s October nuclear test appeared to signal that “Pyongyang has already made the strategic decision to delay serious negotiations until the next president is on the job” and that a nuclear disarmament “deal may not be in the offing.”

Lantos praised talks by the Koreas, the U.S., Russia, Japan and China as “smart policy” but noted that, “until recently, the administration seemed satisfied with sending an American delegation who read canned talking points instead of engaging in a meaningful dialogue.”

Eni Faleomavaega, a Democratic nonvoting delegate representing the U.S. territory of American Samoa, asked: “What is the administration afraid of? There’s no harm in talking” with the North.

“We do not have to accept what North Korea says,” he said. “But, on the other hand, in the interest of defusing a dangerous situation, we should not fear dialogue.”

The Bush administration argues that it already conducts direct talks with the North, as long as they happen within the six-nation framework. Thursday, the chief U.S. envoy at the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, met for a third straight day in Berlin with North Korean diplomat Kim Kye Gwan on preparations for the next round of six-party discussions. Afterward, Hill left for South Korea, the first stop on an East Asia tour that also will include China and Japan. Hill said the next round of talks could occur late this month or early next month.

Lantos said he was encouraged by Hill’s comments Wednesday that Washington is sincere and wants a “normal relationship” with North Korea, established through a “bilateral process.” That is an implicit promise to stop treating the Communist-led North as a pariah state. The North would have to renounce nuclear weapons to win that prize, Hill said.

Perry, in his testimony to the congressional committee, spoke of the danger of the North finishing work on a large nuclear reactor, which could boost bomb-making capability to 10 nuclear weapons a year. While six-nation talks are the best venue for “coercive diplomacy,” Perry said, more than three years of talks have produced “no results.”

China and South Korea hold the key, Perry said. If the North did not stop work on its reactor, he said, the two countries could threaten to cut off North Korea’s food and fuel supplies. An “additional inducement” for Beijing and Seoul to overcome their traditional reticence to cutting off all aid to the North, Perry said, would be “the concern that if they did not provide the coercion, the United States might take the only meaningful coercive action available to it – destroying the reactor before it could come on line.”

Perry acknowledged the danger of such an attack, but, he said, “there are no alternatives left that are not dangerous. And allowing North Korea to move ahead with a robust program that is building 10 nuclear bombs a year could prove to be even more dangerous than exercising coercive diplomacy.”

“We desperately need to get serious negotiations under way with North Korea. And all of our negotiating experience with North Korea tells us that success depends on the diplomacy being backed with a credible threat of force.”

Before the North test launched several missiles in July, Perry suggested that the U.S. launch a pre-emptive strike against the North.

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