Congressman: N. Korea watching Bush's moves

Rep. Tom Lantos said Pyongyang is waiting before deciding whether to resume talks.


Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2005 at 11:55 p.m.
A U.S. congressman who visited North Korea said Tuesday that Pyongyang is waiting to see how the second Bush administration takes shape before deciding whether to return to talks on its nuclear program.
Rep. Tom Lantos, the top Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said the officials he met expressed "their desire for a significantly improved set of relations with the United States," but they argued repeatedly that Washington still harbored "hostile intent."
"They indicated their support for continuing the six-party talks, but they said they are waiting to see the shape of the second Bush admini- stration before committing to returning to the table," Lantos said at a news conference in Beijing after the three-day visit.
They did not specify what exactly would persuade them to continue negotiations, he said.
The United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia have been struggling to arrange a new round of talks on the North's nuclear weapons programs. Three rounds, hosted by China, have been held since 2003, but there have been no breakthroughs.
Lantos, D-Calif., said he told them that since President Bush was still in office and Donald Rumsfeld was still secretary of defense, "there is no conceivable reason for anyone to expect a significant change of U.S. policy towards the Korean Peninsula."
He met with Yang Hyong Sop, vice president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun and Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, who is also North Korea's chief representative in the six-party talks.
Lantos said the meetings did not specifically address the type of nuclear programs the North had. Pyongyang says it has several plutonium-based nuclear weapons and denies U.S. allegations it has a secret uranium-based nuclear weapons program.
"They indicated that they view their nuclear program as important, but I had the very strong impression that they are ready to discuss the matter," he said without elaborating.
Lantos was a sponsor of the North Korean Human Rights Act, which took effect in October and allows Washington to spend up to $24 million a year in humanitarian aid for North Koreans - much of it for refugees who have fled their country.
North Korea reacted angrily to the law, saying it caused "slander and insult" to Pyongyang.
Despite the bill, Lantos said the officials he met "expressed a very strong sense of goodwill."
He said he also presented Libya as a possible model for North Korea - a notion that Pyongyang seemed to be willing to consider. Last year, Bush removed a ban on commercial air service to Libya and released $1.3 billion in frozen Libyan assets in recognition of steps to eliminate its deadliest weapons programs.
While he didn't think the North Korean meetings solved any immediate problems, Lantos said they were was "one small step in the right direction."

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