Powell: N. Korea Ties Disarmament to Aid

AP Wire Service

WASHINGTON – The United States is reviewing a North Korean proposal to give up the nation’s missiles and nuclear facilities in exchange for substantial U.S. economic benefits, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Monday.

The North Koreans set forth the proposal last week in talks in Beijing that were focused on U.S. concerns about North Korea (news – web sites)’s weapons programs.

Powell called the meeting “quite useful” and said U.S. officials are comparing notes with South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, Australia and others. At the Beijing talks, China joined the United States and North Korea.

The North Koreans “did put forward a plan that would ultimately deal with their nuclear capability and their missile activities. But they, of course, expect something considerable in return,” Powell said.

Powell’s somewhat hopeful account of the meetings contrasted with initial accounts last week by other U.S. officials, who highlighted the negative aspects of the North Korean presentation.

These included a North Korean acknowledgment for the first time that the country possessed nuclear weapons and was contemplating exporting or even using them, depending on U.S. actions.

In South Korea, government sources were quoted in media reports as saying there were positive aspects of the North Korean proposal to make it worth pursuing further.

The two Koreas had difficulty, however, crafting a joint statement after two days of Cabinet-level talks in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

South Korea demanded that the joint statement deal with concern over North Korea’s nuclear programs. But the North insisted the South should not meddle in the nuclear standoff with Washington, media reports said.

The North instead tried to shift the focus of the talks to linking cross-border railways and other economic projects with South Korea that are part of a reconciliation process that grew out of a historic North-South summit in June 2000.

The North Korean offer to swap their military might in exchange for economic benefits echoed a similar proposal three months ago by President Bush.

Bush said then that if North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons programs, the United States would be willing to assist the country with its food and energy needs.

A senior State Department official said the North made specific reference to its energy problems as part of a long wish list in return for which they would be willing to disarm.

Pyongyang’s plutonium-based nuclear weapons program is well known to U.S. officials. The location of a uranium-based program, acknowledged by North Korea last fall, is not known.

As U.S. officials see it, the North undertook these programs in spite of international commitments not to do so.

The administration has said repeatedly that the North must eliminate in a verifiable way it weapons programs before the United States would consider economic benefits.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said it a mistake to focus on the belligerent aspects of North Korea’s presentation in Beijing because they represent only part of a much larger whole.

It is in this context that the administration will review last week’s talks and decide on next steps, Boucher said.

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly led the U.S. delegation to the talks and is now back in Washington after sharing his impressions of the outcome with officials in South Korea and Japan.