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N. Korean Leader Sent Letter to Bush in 2002

Korea Times | June 24, 2005
By Reuben Staines

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sent a letter to U.S. President George W. Bush in late 2002 urging him to make a ``bold decision’’ to avert the then-emerging nuclear standoff, but Washington ignored the gesture, a North Korea expert has revealed.

Don Oberdorfer, who was then a reporter at the Washington Post, said he was asked to deliver the letter during a visit to Pyongyang together with Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea, from Nov. 2 to 4 that year.

However, the Korean affairs specialist told Yonhap News Agency that the Bush administration ignored Kim’s message and days later cut off its supply of heavy fuel oil to the North, exacerbating tensions.

Oberdorfer said he and Gregg decided to make the letter public following a meeting between Kim and South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young last week. The North Korean leader indicated a willingness to return to the stalled six-party talks aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff during the rare face-to-face meeting.

The letter, which was written in Korean, was entrusted to the two visiting Americans by Kang Sok-ju, North Korean deputy foreign minister, Oberdorfer said. Kang told them it was approved by ``Dear Leader’’ Kim.

Returning to Washington, Oberdorfer and Gregg presented the translated letter to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy chief of the National Security Council, on Nov. 7.

However, they said Hadley was skeptical about the proposal and other government officials said the White House did not plan to respond.

The 2002 episode came just after a trip to Pyongyang by U.S. special envoy James Kelly, during which he later said North Korean officials had admitted the country was running a secret uranium enrichment program. The communist nation later denied the claim.

Kelly’s allegation, the halting of U.S. energy aid, and North Korea’s subsequent decision to expel international nuclear inspectors and pull out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty sparked the current crisis, which has dragged on for over two-and-a-half years.

Oberdorfer also told Yonhap that during his visit to Pyongyang in 2002 he was certain the nation had a uranium-based nuclear program.

``We were talking about the program. We were talking about how to get rid of the program,’’ he said. ``They never said we have this program, but they never denied it... they only started denying it later.’’

However, Gregg, now head of the New York-based Korea Society, said there is confusion over whether North Korea ever admitted to running the uranium program.

Kang initially told them he did not understand Kelly’s reference to the program.

Gregg will visit Pyongyang again this August to discuss the nuclear issue.

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