A top State Department official leaves Washington Friday for Asia to discuss efforts to persuade North Korea to meet its obligations under a nuclear agreement with the US and other major powers. The White House has downplayed North Korea's failure to meet a deadline on one aspect of the accord, but the Bush administration's conservative critics are again raising concerns. VOA's Bill Rodgers has more.
North Korea renewed its pledge to fulfill its obligations at six-party talks in Beijing in October. It promised to provide a complete list of all of its nuclear activities by December 31st -- a deadline the U.S. says Pyongyang missed.
At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino expressed skepticism over Pyongyang's intentions, but also some hope. "This is a very closed society that has had a secret program that's been ongoing. But North Korea did agree with the other members of the five – of the six – party talks to disable and to provide a complete and accurate declaration. We don't have any indication that they will not provide one," she said.
North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in 2006, is moving forward on its pledge to disable its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon. But critics, including North Korea expert Nicholas Eberstadt of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, are skeptical and characterize U.S. policy this way: "Supine, endlessly indulgent, dreamworld?"
He and other conservative critics say North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has no intention of honoring promises made at the six-party talks -- despite the aid that would be forthcoming in return for disarmament.
The missed deadline is more evidence of this, they say, but State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Washington is not discouraged. "I think everybody has a healthy appreciation for the pace at which this process moves. Sometimes it moves according to schedule. Sometimes it moves in what some might consider tectonic or glacial fashion, but it does move forward."
But with the war in Iraq, the stalemate in Afghanistan and other perceived foreign policy setbacks, Eberstadt and others say the Bush administration has been too eager to reach an accord with North Korea – shifting its policy by 180 degrees.
"The Bush administration clearly had a lot of attitudes about Kim Jung Il -- they didn't like him much,” says Eberstadt. “They had a lot of attitudes about the North Korean state – they didn't like it much. But there was never, as far as I could tell, a coherent program connecting that attitude to objectives or results, trying to make a North Korean problem into a smaller North Korean problem. And when you are lacking in strategy, you're on a very inconstant sea and it's possible for you to make really sudden swerves."
In North Korea, where a massive rally was held Friday, state-run media says Pyongyang informed Washington in November about its nuclear activities. But U.S. officials said Friday no full and complete declaration has been submitted.
Meanwhile, chief U.S. envoy Christopher Hill, who visited Pyongyang last month, is traveling to Asia to discuss efforts to spur North Korea to fulfill its pledges.