Leading Republican joins Democrats in calls for direct U.S.-North Korean talks

Sunday, October 22nd 2006, 11:35 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee joined Democrats on Sunday in calling for direct talks with North Korea aimed at easing a nuclear standoff.

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said direct talks, which the North long has coveted and which the Bush administration refuses, are ``inevitable if this is to be resolved diplomatically.''

Calls for such talks have grown louder following North Korea's nuclear test Oct. 9 and as diplomats worry about a second detonation.

The administration says it will only have such talks during six-nation negotiations meant to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs. Those talks have been stalled for nearly a year.

One day, Lugar said, ``there will be an American president talking to the 'Great Leader' and his people and saying, in essence, in terms they can understand, 'We are not going to overthrow you; we are not involved in regime change; you're going to stay,''' Lugar said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. ``I hope it happens sooner rather than later.''

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in Asia last week to rally support for enforcing a U.N. Security Council resolution that punishes North Korea for the nuclear test.

A report Sunday said Kim told a Chinese envoy that future nuclear tests will hinge on U.S. policy toward his country. Kim also said he thinks Washington is trying to crush North Korea with its hostile policy and complained about U.S. financial penalties, the Kyodo News agency in Japan reported.

Sen. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Japan, Russia, China and South Korea _ the other members of the six-nation talks _ have privately urged the United States to allow direct talks with the North.

Biden, D-Del., questioned what he said was the administration's policy of trying to persuade the North to give up its nuclear bombs while also pursuing a change in government.

``It's either you want regime change or conduct change,'' Biden said. ``You don't say to somebody: 'By the way, put down the very thing that can keep us out of your hair militarily, and, by the way, after you put it down, we're going to take you out.'''

Biden also linked North Korea to Iran, with which the United States is also in a nuclear standoff.

``The bottom line here is, if regime change is the operative element of this administration's policy, you are never going to get to the point where you end up with a diplomatic solution,'' he said. ``Iran is watching very closely how we handle this.''

Sen. John Warner, however, supported Bush's policy of keeping direct talks between North Korea and the United States within the framework of the deadlocked six-nation negotiations.

``He's been right: Leave it to the six. Because we do not want the other powers to point to us and say: 'You didn't handle this right, USA. It's your fault; now you take care of the problem,''' said Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The lawmakers appeared on ``Fox News Sunday.''