U.S. weighs sending envoy to North Korea; Communication sought to defuse weapons threat


WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration may send former Defense Secretary William J. Perry to North Korea in what would be a high-profile effort to try to resolve the disputes over that nation's nuclear and missile programs, according to U.S. officials.

Perry was appointed late last year to conduct a review of U.S. policy toward North Korea. If he visits Pyongyang, it will be the most significant and high-level contact between America and North Korea since former President Jimmy Carter made a comparable journey in 1994.

State Department spokesman James Foley told reporters last week that Perry "has no plans currently to visit there [North Korea]." However, the possibility of such a trip was discussed last week at a meeting of senior administration officials, according to an administration source.

North Korea ranks with Iraq and Kosovo as among the top foreign-policy problems confronting the Clinton administration. Under a deal worked out after Carter's visit, North Korea agreed to stop producing the fuel for nuclear weapons in exchange for two nuclear power plants and some supplies of fuel oil.

But over the past six months, the viability of that deal has been called into question by two developments: North Korea's firing of a new three-stage missile across Japan's airspace, and the discovery that North Korea was preparing an underground site for what appears to be a new nuclear-weapons facility.

The possible Perry mission is merely one component of an intensifying international effort to deter North Korea from developing weapons of mass destruction. U.S. Special Ambassador Charles Kartman is expected to meet with North Korean officials in New York City this week to try to arrange for an inspection of the suspicious underground site.

Meanwhile, according to U.S. officials, there are signs that Chinese President Jiang Zemin may be preparing for summit talks with North Korean President Kim Jong Il.

Pub Date: 2/22/99

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