View Full Version : North Korea Tried To Make Peace But Bush Wanted Nothing To Do With It

06-22-2005, 11:45 AM
Bush spurned secret 2002 N. Korea overture-report


Wed Jun 22, 3:36 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong-il attempted to engage President Bush directly on the nuclear weapons issue three years ago but the administration spurned the overture, two American experts on Asia said on Wednesday.

Writing in the Washington Post, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea Donald Gregg and former journalist Don Oberdorfer expressed concern that Kim's November 2002 initiative was never pursued and urged Bush to respond positively to his current overture, made last week.

When Bush took office in 2001, U.S. officials estimated Pyongyang had fuel for one or two nuclear weapons. Now, that estimate is up to at least half a dozen and, the authors said, "many believe their claim to have fabricated the weapons themselves."

Gregg and Oberdorfer said they visited Pyongyang in November 2002, after then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly was there and accused the North of pursuing a secret program of enriching uranium for nuclear weapons.

The North froze its weapons-related plutonium program in 1994 under an agreement with the United States.

But the discovery of the uranium program -- which Pyongyang first acknowledged and then denied -- fanned administration doubts about the North's trustworthiness.

It also led to an impasse between Pyongyang and Washington during a period when officials say the North advanced its nuclear capability.

Gregg and Oberdorfer said while in Pyongyang in 2002 "we were given a written personal message from Kim to Bush."

Kim stated if the United States recognized the North's sovereignty and provided non-aggression assurances "it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century."

Also in the message, Kim further promised "if the United States makes a bold decision, we will respond accordingly," the authors wrote in an opinion piece.

They said they took the message to senior White House and State Department officials and urged them to follow up on Kim's initiative.

But the administration, then planning for the Iraq invasion, "spurned engagement with North Korea," said Gregg and Oberdorfer.

Within weeks, Kim expelled U.N. inspectors, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and reopened plutonium production facilities frozen since 1994.

Since June 2004, Pyongyang has boycotted six-nation talks designed to resolve the nuclear crisis and raised tensions by declaring itself a nuclear weapons state.

Hence, Kim's statement last Friday presents a "rare opportunity to move promptly toward ending the dangerous nuclear proliferation crisis in Northeast Asia," wrote Gregg and Oberdorfer.

Kim told a senior South Korean envoy visiting Pyongyang he would rejoin the six-nation talks if Washington "recognizes and respects" his country. He also raised the prospect of North Korea rejoining the NPT and readmitting U.N. nuclear monitors.

Gregg and Oberdorfer said Bush should "seize the moment" to communicate directly with Kim and consider sending Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill to Pyongyang to prepare for a visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"The purpose would be to explore the policies behind Kim's words to determine whether practical arrangements can be made, subject to approval by our partners in the six-nation talks, to end the dangerous North Korean nuclear program," they said.

U.S. officials have said they recognize the North's sovereignty, have no plans to invade and would provide security guarantees and move toward normal relations once the nuclear issue was resolved.

But some U.S. officials have also persisted in calling the North an "outpost of tyranny," which rankles Pyongyang and has also irritated U.S. ally South Korea.