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US Congressmen Attempt to Visit North Korea - 2002-05-29

A U.S. Congressional delegation visiting China is trying to enter North Korea, but has been unable to obtain visas. The congressmen say they wish to bring Pyongyang a message of friendship, rather than hostility. The topic of North Korean refugees in China is also high on the delegation's agenda.

A dozen members of the U.S. House of Representatives are in Beijing, still hoping after three months of efforts to gain permission to visit North Korea. The congressmen and women - equally divided between Republicans and Democrats - say they are on a mission of peace and goodwill.

Congressman Curt Weldon of the Armed Services Committee spoke to reporters in Beijing Wednesday.

"We want to let the DPRK leadership and people know that we in America are not about backing them into a corner," Congressman Weldon said. "We're not about creating a tension between our nations or our people. We want dialogue. "

Mr. Weldon says most members of Congress are anxious to open the door to communist North Korea. The Republican from Pennsylvania says a speech by President Bush - which labeled North Korea as a member of an axis of evil countries developing weapons of mass destruction - should not preclude American efforts to engage Pyongyang.

The delegation met Wednesday morning with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Representative Alcee Hastings says he raised the issue of North Korean asylum-seekers at the meeting.

"The refugee issue is of major consequence to China and to the United States and North Korea. And I proposed to President Jiang Zemin that perhaps he would be so kind to even make a call to assist us in getting into the DPRK, so that we could carry a voice portfolio, discussing the refugee issue," he said.

Mr. Hastings says he is concerned about the thousands of North Koreans fleeing famine and seeking refuge in China. The Florida Democrat says members of Congress would like to help solve the refugee problem.

He declined to comment on Beijing's policy of repatriating North Koreans illegally crossing the border to China, saying only that he understands how a government could be concerned.

Beijing has an agreement with its ally, Pyongyang, to send illegal immigrants home. But since March it has allowed almost 40 North Koreans seeking asylum at diplomatic missions to leave for South Korea via a third country.

On Tuesday, Beijing demanded that Seoul hand over four North Koreans seeking asylum at the South Korean embassy here. South Korean diplomats say they may comply with China's request, provided the North Koreans are allowed to leave the country.