Secretary of State Colin Powell, in congressional testimony Thursday, re-affirmed the Bush administration's opposition to having face-to-face talks with North Korea over its nuclear program. Mr. Powell insisted the issue has regional implications, and should be addressed multilaterally.
The administration's approach to the North Korea nuclear issue has both domestic and international critics. But in House Appropriations subcommittee testimony Mr. Powell held firm to the refusal to deal directly with Pyongyang, or to consider its demand for a non-aggression treaty. The secretary said that to do otherwise would reward North Korea for violating its 1994 nuclear freeze agreement with the United States and other international commitments.
"Their demand on us is: okay, come talk to us again because we know how this negotiation goes," Mr. Powell said. "You'll pay us something to cap all of this up again. Well, we're not going to quite do that. We believe this is now a problem for the region. And that is, it should be a concern to Japan and to South Korea, and to Russia, and to China, and to the rest of the world, and not just a bilateral U.S.-North Korean problem."
After conceding to a U.S. envoy last October that it had a uranium enrichment program in violation of the 1994 framework, North Korea has taken a series of steps apparently aimed at reviving its nuclear weapons program, including withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In addition to seeking a multi-lateral forum for discussing the issue, the Bush administration has sought a U.N. Security Council statement condemning North Korea though it says it will not, at least for the time being seek U.N. sanctions, which North Korea has said would be tantamount to a declaration of war.
The approach drew criticism at Thursday's hearing from Democratic Congressmen David Obey, who said the administration should not wait until North Korea is in position to sell nuclear weapons before engaging in direct dialogue.
"I am tremendously disturbed by our lack of immediate focus on, and direct contact with, North Korea," said David Obey. "I respect the fact that it's a terrible problem. But I really believe...I mean it almost appears to be that the administration is acquiescing in North Korea's becoming a permanent member of the 'nuclear club.' I know they already are a member, but I'm not convinced that if we draw the line just at their ability, or their willingness to sell, that we're ever going to be able to tie that down tightly enough."
Under questioning from another panel member, Mr. Powell said the United States is working closely with China, North Korea's biggest trade partner and aid contributor, to try to convince Pyongyang that "a better future awaits them" if they do not possess nuclear arms.
The secretary said the United States will contribute up to 100,000 tons of food aid to North Korea this year through the U.N.'s World Food Program. But he said the administration is "anxious to see" improvements in food distribution, to assure that the food reaches the truly needy and not the North Korean army or political elite.
Mr. Powell announced an initial 40,000-ton U.S. aid commitment during a visit to South Korea last month.