Bush officialWASHINGTON >> The Bush administration will discuss North Korea today with East Asian allies, even as U.S. officials disagree over how to verify that Pyongyang complies with any missile control deal.
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By George Gedda
A U.S. official said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly will outline the administration's review of North Korean policy when he meets in Honolulu with top officials from South Korea and Japan.
In March, President Bush ordered a fresh look at the policy he inherited from President Clinton, who sought to encourage Pyongyang 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 rules that will provide absolute assurances of compliance with a missile control agreement, while others are willing to accept a less stringent standard. During the review period there have been no negotiations, so the United States does not know what North Korea would be willing to do to prove 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.
The U.S. official, asking not to be identified, said 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 37,000 U.S. troops stationed across the border in South Korea.
Japan, South Korea and the United States have been coordinating their respective North Korean policies for two years under what is known as the Trilateral Consultation and Oversight Group (TCOG). 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 Kunihito Makita, a director general in the Japanese 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.
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.
"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 South Korean, Japanese and European allies in a hardheaded strategy of engaging North Korea and luring it out of its isolation."