U.S. urges N. Korea to agree to nuclear deal quickly

America now focused on Katrina, congressmen say


BEIJING - Two members of Congress returning yesterday from a visit to North Korea warned the country's government that an American public traumatized by Hurricane Katrina was in no mood for any more lengthy negotiations over North Korea's nuclear program.

The congressmen - Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, and Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican - said they had urged North Korean officials to dispense with any belabored negotiating tactics and quickly agree on a statement of shared principles when the six-nation nuclear talks resume this month.

"In view of Hurricane Katrina, the attention of the country will for quite some time shift to domestic issues," Lantos said he told North Korean officials. He said a "dilatory diplomatic performance" by North Korea would anger the American public.

"They should come back and, in short, reach agreement on principles," Lantos said.

He said North Korean officials did raise what has become a major impasse in the talks, namely their desire to maintain the right to build nuclear power plants. The North Koreans have insisted that any statement of shared principles should not prohibit them from pursuing a "peaceful" nuclear program. The United States has opposed such a program, in light of North Korea's past deceptions about its nuclear ambitions.

In a telephone interview, Lantos suggested that a discussion about nuclear energy should be postponed until after the countries taking part in the talks agree on a broad statement of principle.

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