U.S. offers North Korea incentives to end impasse

November 24, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Without offering specifics, President Clinton said yesterday that the United States is willing to hold wide-ranging talks with North Korea's Communist regime in TC exchange for an end to a stalemate over nuclear inspection.

Mr. Clinton had billed his announcement as a new approach, after top U.S. officials said recently that the administration is committed to a diplomatic solution of the impasse.

But Mr. Clinton avoided spelling out specific incentives to North Korea after his meeting yesterday with South Korean President Kim Young Sam, who wants the North to permit inspections before any concrete offers are made.

As outlined by a senior administration official after the Clinton-Kim meeting, the White House announcement contained little that was new.

North Korea has balked for weeks at allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to replace the film and batteries on cameras monitoring its declared nuclear sites.

Each passing week erodes the agency's confidence that it will be able to tell whether the North is using its civilian nuclear facilities to build atomic weapons.

The IAEA says North Korea is expected soon to remove the core of its nuclear reactor. If inspectors are unable to examine the core, evidence of past bomb-fuel processing may be irrecoverably lost, the agency says.

For months, U.S. intelligence agencies have said the North has enough fuel already for one or two weapons, but admit they are uncertain about the extent of North Korea's nuclear program.

At a White House news conference, Mr. Clinton dangled the prospect of improved political, economic and security relations with North Korea's economically strapped and isolated regime. He offered to hold "thorough, broad" talks with North Korea's leaders on "the issues that divide us, and once and for all to resolve the nuclear issue."

Mid-level State Department officials are in New York to lay out the U.S. approach to their North Korean counterparts. If the North cooperates, the way could be paved for higher-level talks later.

Even as he suggested a diplomatic solution, Mr. Clinton warned North Korea that if it failed to allow the nuclear inspections, "it risks facing the increased opposition of the entire world community."

And though he eased up on the previous U.S. threat of U.N.-imposed sanctions, the president said North Korea would be virtually annihilated if it attacked the South. "They would pay a price so great that the nation would probably not survive as it is known today," he said.

In a separate announcement, the Pentagon disclosed plans to bolster South Korea's defenses by selling 317 air-to-air missiles, including 190 of the state-of-the-art, radar-guided AMRAAM type, for a total of $169 million. In recent weeks, Defense Department officials have expressed concern about a heavy buildup of North Korean forces along the border with the South.

The United States and South Korea have scheduled joint military exercises, dubbed Team Spirit, for next year. If North Korea permits nuclear inspections and begins talks with the South, U.S. officials have said they would recommend that the exercises be suspended.

But Mr. Clinton refused to commit himself to this course yesterday, saying "any move we make . . . must be based on our appreciation of what the security situation is."

The president also was vague on what penalty North Korea would face if it failed to comply soon with the inspection requirement.

China and Japan oppose an early move to impose sanctions and want diplomatic efforts exhausted first.

"Neither President Kim nor I are eager to go to the United Nations and ask for sanctions against North Korea," Mr. Clinton told reporters.

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