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The right path in Korea

THE BUSH administration's recent approval of a visit by an unofficial US delegation to North Korea's nuclear reactor site at Yongbyon is good news. The promise of the visit -- planned for Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 -- can be fulfilled only if President Bush is prepared to strike the kind of deal that will be needed to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons program.


Since the North Koreans have said they removed the 8,000 spent fuel rods from a cooling pond at Yongbyon to begin reprocessing plutonium, they may want to show Americans that the rods were actually removed. It is important that members of the US delegation have the technical background to evaluate what they are shown at Yongbyon. So it is a good sign that along with Senate staffers and a former diplomat, the delegation will include a former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sig Hecker.

The North's acceptance of the visit also suggests a wish to demonstrate to Washington that Pyongyang is ready to have US inspectors examine its nuclear sites.

To the extent any eventual agreement on freezing and then dismantling North Korea's nuclear program will require US inspectors to monitor and confirm the process, this week's visit to the restarted reactor at Yongbyon could be a valuable precursor of a nuclear disarmament deal. By receiving the American delegation, Pyongyang will be saying to Bush: You see, we can give you whatever you will need in the way of on-site verifications of an agreement deal on dismantling our nukes.

What North Korea wants in return its spokesmen have outlined over and over, in public and private, to US officials and to America's allies in Asia.

The first step would be an agreement in principle: Washington would accept the principle of ending what Pyongyang regards as Bush's hostile policy toward the North, and the North would reciprocate by agreeing to trade away its nuclear weapons capability.

Next would come actions by both sides. The North would freeze its nuclear program. Simultaneously, the United States would lift its sanctions on the North and drop Pyongyang from the State Department's terrorism list. Also, the North will want the suspended heavy fuel oil deliveries from the 1994 Framework Agreement resumed. Electricity could be delivered to the North by South Korea. In a third stage, a comprehensive deal for North Korea's nuclear disarmament could be negotiated in the context of renewed six-party talks including China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea.

Bush should now demand that his bureaucracy come up with a detailed US negotiating proposal. If he can negotiate nuclear disarmament directly with Libya and indirectly with Iran, there is no reason to delay negotiating a deal with Pyongyang -- a deal North Korea's neighbors especially long to see completed.

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