WASHINGTON -- North Korea's new offer to allow greater access to its nuclear sites restricts international inspectors at the two most critical installations, leaving the Clinton administration divided over how to respond, administration officials said yesterday.
The administration has scheduled a Cabinet-level "principals" meeting tomorrow to try to fashion a response, officials said.
After a day of careful examination of the North Korean offer, American specialists disclosed details of the plan yesterday, saying it contained some serious deficiencies.
In particular, they said, the North Koreans have not agreed that JTC international monitors could inspect their two most sensitive nuclear installations at Yongbyon, their nuclear reactor and their nuclear reprocessing facility, which can be used to separate plutonium for a nuclear bomb.
In another sign that the issue is far from resolved, South Korea called the plan yesterday inadequate.
"The North Korean reply looks insufficient but is something we need to examine," said Han Sung Joo, South Korea's foreign affairs minister.
"We tried to be very firm but also hold out the hand of possible cooperation," President Clinton said in interviews with radio stations. "They need to come join the rest of us. They need to reconcile with the South, and I want to help them."
But his administration faces a key decision: whether to reject the proposal as inadequate, make a counterproposal or accept much of it as the best Washington can do in a crisis that has raised fears of a renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula.
The North Korean offer was presented Friday. Administration officials familiar with the confidential proposal say it would work this way:
* Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency would be given unlimited access to five of seven officially disclosed nuclear installations -- relatively minor sites.
* The international monitors would not conduct inspections at North Korea's nuclear reactor or its nuclear reprocessing plant, but the agency would be allowed to replace the film and batteries in cameras there. The agency in the past has rejected that as insufficient.
* North Korea said it was willing to negotiate with the agency over greater access to the reactor and reprocessing sites but did not offer anything specific.
The North Koreans not only set limits on what access international inspectors might and might not have but also specified a series of diplomatic steps to be taken.