O'ahu setting for talks on North Korea
WASHINGTON The Bush administration will discuss North Korea today in Honolulu with East Asian allies, even as U.S. officials disagree over how to verify that
U.S. and South Korean officials met in Honolulu yesterday to discuss North Korea policy ahead of today's scheduled trilateral talks among the United States, South Korea and Japan.
A U.S. official said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will outline the administration's review of North Korea policy when he meets with top officials from South Korea and Japan.
Kelly and five other U.S. officials met separately with six South Korean counterparts at a Waikiki hotel yesterday as part of bilateral talks ahead of today's session.
In March, President Bush ordered a fresh look at the policy inherited from President Clinton. During his last months in office, Clinton sought to encourage the communist regime in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, to curb its development and export of long-range missiles.
Bush said he was concerned about whether any missile agreement negotiated with the North could be verified.
Some U.S. officials are holding out for ground rules that will provide absolute assurances of compliance with a missile control agreement, while others would be willing to accept a less stringent standard. During the review period there have been no negotiations, so the United States doesn't know what North Koreans would be willing to do to prove they are in compliance.
Angered by the delay in negotiations, North Korea has issued a number of statements hostile to the United States and has cut off reconciliation efforts with South Korea.
Weeks after the policy review got under way, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that, once negotiations resume, the administration may try to expand the agenda to include the large military presence that North Korea maintains near its border with South Korea. That proposal continues to be an option.
The administration has had little to say about the North's military posture. But the Council on Foreign Relations has said that North Korea, even as it was making overtures to the outside world over the past two years, was also "building up its capacity to inflict damage on South Korea and Japan with new deployments of artillery, fighter aircraft, special operations forces and ballistic missiles."
The United States is sensitive to North Korea's military capability, partly because of the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops across the border in South Korea.
Japan, South Korea and the United States have been coordinating their respective North Korea policies for two years under what is known as the Trilateral Consultation and Oversight Group. The consultations ensure that the interests of all three allies are taken into account as each negotiates with North Korea.
Kelly will be joined in Honolulu by Yim Sung-joon, a South Korean deputy foreign affairs minister, and by Kunihito Makita, a director-general in Japan's Foreign Ministry.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told a visiting European Union delegation earlier this month that he intends to continue the export of missiles because his country needs the cash. The United States is strongly opposed to such sales.
On a more conciliatory note, Kim told the Europeans that he would observe a moratorium on tests of long-range missiles until 2003. The moratorium dates from a 1999 agreement between the United States and North Korea.
Among those who have expressed impatience with the delay in talks with North Korea is Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who is in line to take over the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee now that the Republicans have lost their Senate majority.
"I hope the administration will engage soon," Biden said Wednesday. "When the administration completes its policy review, I believe they will conclude, as I have, that the best way to advance our interests is to join with our ... allies in a hardheaded strategy of engaging North Korea and luring it out of its isolation."