Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Warily Voices Hope on North Korea

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Clinton Warily Voices Hope on North Korea

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton cited "hopeful signs" Monday that the North Korea crisis may be easing, and the administration awaited confirmation from the Koreans that they are willing to freeze their nuclear program.

The State Department said it was using unspecified "diplomatic channels" to confirm with the North Koreans the offer former President Jimmy Carter said they made in his meetings last week with President Kim Il Sung.

Mike McCurry, the State Department spokesman, declined to say whether the diplomatic contacts would include a visit by U.S. officials to North Korea. Beyond saying the contacts would take place this week, McCurry and other administration officials refused to discuss the timing and nature of the effort.

If the North Koreans are ready to halt operations at their nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, scrap plans to refuel their 5-megawatt nuclear reactor and allow normal international inspections, then the United States would be willing to hold a new round of high-level talks, McCurry said.

Those talks are considered crucial because they would cover issues that North Korea has insisted must be resolved before it can accept Western restrictions on its nuclear activities. North Korea wants, for example, to receive full diplomatic recognition from the United States, an end to U.S. trade limitations and a peace treaty ending the 1950-53 Korean War.

Carter, who briefed Clinton and senior administration officials Sunday on his talks in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, has said he believes Kim sincerely wants to end the nuclear dispute.

In an interview Monday on NBC's "Today" show, Clinton sounded hopeful, but also skeptical, that Kim's offer to Carter represented a change in circumstances.

"We have surely something to gain by talking with the North Koreans, by avoiding further steps toward a crisis, but we have to know there's been a change," Clinton said. …

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