WASHINGTON -- President Clinton decided to press North Korea for broader inspections of its nuclear sites yesterday, saying he was "not entirely satisfied" with North Korea's latest move to end the peninsula's nuclear standoff.
After meeting with his top national security advisers, Mr. Clinton ordered U.S. diplomats to hold further talks in New York with the North Koreans to resolve the crisis over the isolated Communist regime's nuclear program. For the time being, the United States will not resort to other forms of pressure, such as seeking United Nations sanctions against North Korea.
Officials said that after consulting with South Korea and other allies, U.S. diplomats would press North Korea to agree to the inspections "in the immediate future," but would not set a deadline.
North Korea has refused to grant full access to inspectors from the world's nuclear watchdog agency to explore its nuclear processing facilities and other sites.
This refusal has heightened suspicions that Pyongyang is using these sites to develop a nuclear weapons capability that could endanger South Korea and Japan and embroil the United States in a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula.
A North Korean proposal last week that would restrict access to two of the country's most important nuclear sites has been deemed inadequate by the United States, South Korea and the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency.
The proposal failed to meet the atomic agency's demands for making sure that the Communist regime is using its atomic energy program for peaceful purposes. In fact, it would grant less access than the agency enjoyed a year ago, before North Korea reduced its cooperation.
Nevertheless, Mr. Clinton indicated at a news conference yesterday that he was prepared to continue diplomatic efforts to get North Korea to cooperate.
"Obviously, we're not entirely satisfied with the response of the North Koreans to the proposal we put forward, but we're going to meet about it later today and then we're going to consult with . . . South Korea and our other allies in the area, and formulate . . . our next move."
Asked what he liked about the North Korean proposal, the president said, "What I liked most about it was that there was some indication on their part that they understood that we needed to both start inspections and the dialogue again between the South and the North. That was clear."
The president said, "it's like all these things in international diplomacy -- the devil is in the details. But I'm hopeful that we can work something out, and I don't want to say more until I have a chance to meet with my advisers and also to talk to our allies."
North Korea's proposal
Under the proposal, Pyongyang would allow limited access to two important nuclear sites -- a reactor and a reprocessing facility at Yongbyon. Inspectors would be allowed to change film and batteries in cameras they had installed but would not be able to roam the facilities at will.
As the weeks pass without adequate inspections, the agency says it has less and less confidence that it will be able to find out whether North Korea is trying to build a nuclear arsenal.
North Korea also demanded rewards from the United States in return both for the inspections and for fulfilling a second U.S. demand: resumption of high-level talks with South Korea.
The United States has dangled various inducements, including the suspension or cancellation of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, wide-ranging high-level talks, eventual normalization of relations and even some form of aid.
North Korea wants the United States to agree to a "package deal" of concessions by both sides.
But during a recent visit to Washington by South Korean President Kim Young Sam, he and President Clinton agreed that North Korea would have to cooperate on both the inspections issue and the talks before the United States would make any new concessions.
Most sensitive aspect
The dispute over inspections does not address the most sensitive aspect of North Korea's nuclear program.
North Korea is only being pressed to open for inspection the sites that it has publicly declared. It has consistently refused the atomic agency permission to conduct "special inspections" -- searches of areas North Korea has not disclosed.
The agency wants to examine two suspected storage sites for nuclear waste that may offer vital clues as to what nuclear-weapon fuel North Korea may have hidden.
For now, the question of "special inspections" has been left for further negotiation.
North Korea has offered unrestricted access to five sites considered of lesser importance. At the two sites where it wants to restrict the atomic agency's access, inspectors would not be able to question employees or examine seals installed to prevent the movement of nuclear material or count the number of spent fuel rods at or near the reactor.
Inspectors cannot be satisfied "unless you go check the seals and the back-up systems," agency spokesman David Kyd told The Sun from Vienna, Austria, yesterday. "You've got to kick the tires and drive the vehicle."