U.S. Should Consider Direct Talks with North Korea, Lawmaker Says

By Jane Morse
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - Nine months after North Korea committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a joint statement of principles, the international community still is no closer to realizing those goals, according to the chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.

Representative James Leach, at a June 29 hearing of his subcommittee, decried the "lifelessness of the Six Party process" and urged the Bush administration to consider direct talks with the Pyongyang regime.

Two important changes have occurred since the six parties signed their joint statement of principles in September 2005, Leach said.  (See related article.)

"First, the North Koreans have had an additional nine months to produce fissile material," he said.  "An expert report released three days ago assesses that North Korea has now separated enough plutonium for somewhere between 4 and 13 nuclear weapons," more than a 50 percent increase over the amount they were believed to possess prior to 2003.

"Second, the North Koreans have reportedly stood up a long-range ballistic missile on a launch pad at Taepodong, though it remains unclear whether those actions represent preparations for an actual launch or a provocative plea for U.S. attention," Leach said.

By rejecting most forms of direct conversation with North Korea, the Bush administration is "ignoring opportunities to reach mutual accommodation," he said.

"At present, the United States is in an ironic circumstance where we have tied ourselves exclusively to a multilateral process in which other parties are taking the lead," Leach said.

"It is self-evident that the Six Party talks are a reasonable framework within which to pursue the denuclearization of North Korea," the congressman said.  "But it is also true that other parties have supplemented Six Party contacts with bilateral discussions outside the Beijing framework, and that they would welcome more robust, direct U.S. initiatives with North Korea."

"For us to remain instead diplomatically reactive," the congressman said, "cedes too much initiative to actors whose interests are not identical with our own, and allows the North Koreans and others to bizarrely paint us as an intransigent party."

Leach did concede that, "Given North Korea's track record, I of course share the administration's healthy skepticism about its strategic intentions.  But skepticism is an attitude, not a policy.  It is critical for the Administration to form a creative, coherent response to the growing North Korean nuclear threats to our national security."

For more information on U.S. policies, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.