A former North Korean official who defected to South Korea in 1997 says the United States should not allow the regime in Pyongyang to remain in power. Hwang Jang Yop spoke at a Washington news conference Thursday after meeting with U.S. lawmakers.

Mr. Hwang met with members of key House committees - International Relations, and Homeland Security.

Appearing at a news conference, he declined any specific reaction to North Korea's agreement in principle to participate in six-nation talks on its nuclear development program.

However, he said any promises by Pyongyang cannot be trusted. And he said the United States should not offer security guarantees, adding that diplomatic negotiations aimed at resolving the nuclear issue cannot obscure what he described as a central fact.

"In this world," he said, "we have democratic nations and then we have dictators and I believe guaranteeing the status quo of a dictator, guaranteeing the continued existence of a dictator, goes against the principle of democracy."

Mr. Hwang says the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 placed the United States in the position of leading the war on terror, which he says carries with it the obligation to oppose those who abuse human rights.

Without mentioning North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il by name, Mr. Hwang suggested that leaving the regime in Pyongyang intact would be a kind of betrayal of the war on terror.

"I don't understand how we can actually guarantee continued existence of a dictator that abuses human rights, and how can that actually be democratic? It's almost like Americans telling the terrorist organizations, if you promise not to terrorize people again, we will leave you alone. That's not the war on terror is about," he said. "Perhaps we can say [to] Kim Jong-Il, we will leave you alone if you stop your nuclear program. I don't think so."

Mr. Hwang sidestepped a reporter's question as to whether he thought Kim Jong-Il is "mentally stable". But more was learned about his views from Republican Congressman Christopher Cox.

"In his view," said Congressman Cox, "Kim Jong-Il controls directly only about 300 people at the top of the pyramid. Beneath that he believes there is widespread dissatisfaction but because of the overwhelming control the state exercises in all aspects of life in North Korea, there is not organized opposition."

Congressman Cox quoted the former North Korean official as saying there could be a rapid collapse of the regime if conditions were right.

On China, Mr. Hwang told reporters he does not believe Beijing has helped North Korea obtain nuclear weapons or the means to build them.

But Congressman Cox quoted Mr. Hwang as saying China is "tacitly supportive" of Pyongyang and expressing concern about Beijing's longer-term intentions.

"In his view, the most important short-term goal of policy in this regard should be "de-link" the PRC and North Korea," added Congressman Cox. "He believes that the PRC is tacitly supportive of North Korea, that in fact they have taken advantage of North Korea's WMD capability to enhance their own influence."

Mr. Hwang has met with several senior State Department officials during his visit to Washington. However, the State Department describes his visit as private, adding that it would not affect six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.