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Lawmaker: White House nixed N. Korea trip
( 2003-10-27 14:53) (Agencies)

A Republican congressman said Sunday that opposition from the White House caused him to scrub plans to lead a group of U.S. lawmakers to the site of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"At the 11th hour, the White House withdrew its support for our bipartisan visit to North Korea," Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said in a statement. It said Sunday's scheduled departure has been delayed temporarily.

KCNA, North Korea's official news agency, reported that the congressional delegation had notified Kim Jong Il's government Friday that the trip was canceled "due to the opposition of the White House."

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Bush had good discussions on his recent trip to Asia on moving forward with multinational diplomacy to persuade the North to move forward to end its nuclear weapons program.

To try to keep the focus on that process, the official said, "we believe that a congressional delegation visit to North Korea at this time would not be appropriate."

Weldon is considered an expert on foreign policy matters, especially involving Russia, China and other former Cold War rivals such as North Korea.

He had planned to visit the North Korea from Tuesday through Friday. He led a delegation there in late May and said on his return that North Korea's government was ready to bargain about its weapons development program and nuclear stockpiles.

KCNA said North Korea had planned to invite Weldon's delegation to visit Yongbyon, North Korea's main nuclear complex. Weldon and his congressional colleagues would have been the first outsiders at the plant since North Korea threw out U.N. nuclear inspectors late last year.

"Discussions continue between our delegation and North Korean officials," Weldon said in his statement. "The members of the delegation still believe that a congressional visit will positively impact relations between our two nations.

"In that regard, the North Koreans continue to make overtures that our delegation will have access to the Yongbyon nuclear facility."

North Korea said on Saturday it would consider President Bush's offer of written security assurances in return for dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

A North Korean spokesman, quoted by KCNA, said his government was "ready to consider Bush's remarks on the `written assurances of nonaggression' if they are based on the intention to coexist" and offer simultaneous actions.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday any reciprocal agreement leading to written assurances against an attack on North Korea would have to be verifiable.

"The president has made it clear since the beginning of this situation last year that he had no intention of invading North Korea," Powell said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "North Korea listened to these assurances, and we've been doing diplomatic dances for the last year.

"And in the last several days, after the president, once again, reaffirmed his position with President Hu Jintao of China and other leaders in Thailand last week, the North Koreans have responded ... to suggest they wish to pursue the ideas that the president has put on the table."

North Korea has been a particular problem for the Bush administration since the president put the North in an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran in his 2002 State of the Union address.

Later disclosures that the Koreans had continued working on nuclear weapons, despite an agreement with the former Clinton administration to stop, caused a precipitous fall in relations.

After a full break, the two are again talking, together with Russia, South Korea, Japan and China. Bush said last week the five other negotiating parties would join in the written assurances that no attack was planned.

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