Former U.S. officials and experts testifying before the US legislature say North Korea must return to six-nation talks on resolving the impasse over its nuclear weapons program. At the same time, a U.S. lawmaker who has had high-level talks in Pyongyang in the past says he is waiting for official word from North Korea regarding plans for another visit.
Former Defense Secretary William Perry, who served in the Clinton administration, says he is not confident an acceptable agreement can be reached with North Korea.
The possibility of failure, he says, is something the United States and its partners in the six-party talks with the North need to address urgently: "We should aggressively explore that possibility. The six-power talks is the appropriate venue for that exploration. And finally, I believe we should do it with some urgency. Time is not on our side. While we are talking, they are building," he said.
An advocate of keeping military options on the table in dealing with the North, Mr. Perry says it would be reasonable to give some form of security guarantees to Pyongyang, but says Washington and others must insist on a comprehensive, verifiable agreement.
Former U.S. Ambassador James Lilley proposes what he calls a new mutual development organization that could be attractive to the North, and move the Korean peninsula toward denuclearization. "The participants would be the six parties engaged in talks in Beijing, namely Russia, China, the U.S., North and South Korea and Japan," he said.
Thursday's hearing brought this pointed comment by Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee. "There is no substitute for the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction," he said.
The hearing took place against the background of a recent threat by Pyongyang to resume long-range missile testing.
In separate remarks before another Congressional committee, Joseph DeTrani, U.S. special envoy for the six-party talks, summarized where talks with Pyongyang stand. "We are at a critical juncture in the talks, and it is all the more imperative that China, as Chairman of the Talks, use its influence and leverage to bring the DPRK back to the table and achieve our shared goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula," he said.
U.S. officials have said Pyongyang should not over-react to a recent remark by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who described North Korea as being one of six outposts of tyranny.
However, the remark has been cited by analysts as having harmed efforts to get Pyongyang back to negotiations.
North Korea and Asian expert Selig Harrison is among those calling for a softening of rhetoric on Washington's part. "Statements by the President and Secretary of State, to set the stage for negotiations, in which the U.S. finds an acceptable way to back away from regime change," he said. "At a minimum, the Secretary of State should reaffirm that the United States has no hostile intent toward North Korea."
Mr. Harrison further negotiations on disarmament with the North may not be possible without such a statement.
U.S. envoy DeTrani Thursday repeated that the United States has no intention of invading or attacking North Korea.
Other experts appearing before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission criticized Beijing for failing to exert enough pressure on North Korea on the nuclear issue.
Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, noted for his two previous independent unofficial visits to North Korea, says he is awaiting official word from Pyongyang for another such trip. "I met with (North Korean Deputy Ambassador to U.N.) Han (Song-ryol) and he is seeking final approval now, but I have been invited by the President of North Korea (during) our visit (in January), I am waiting for the final offer of the invitation which I would expect could come within days or weeks," he said.
Mr. Weldon says he hopes a new delegation would include as many as 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats from Congress, adding he has had indications from North Korean officials of a possible meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.