Key American senators from both parties are calling on the Bush administration to hold direct talks with North Korea, following the isolated Asian country's nuclear test earlier this month.
North Korea's recent nuclear test served as a wake-up call for American lawmakers, who are increasingly urging the U.S. government to try to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis by speaking directly with Pyongyang.
The Bush administration has refused to deal directly with Pyongyang outside of the framework of the so-called six party talks, saying North Korea has cheated on previous bilateral negotiations with Washington. The six party process, which also includes North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, began in 2003, but has been stalled for more than one year because of Pyongyang's boycott.
Democratic Senator Jack Reed, who has been among the loudest voices on this issue on Capitol Hill, said direct talks are especially urgent because of recent North Korean actions.
"Well, this Bush administration over the last several years has watched first as the North Koreans have taken the plutonium away from international inspectors and fashioned nuclear devices. They've seen a missile launch on the Fourth of July. And
now they've seen the detonation of a nuclear device." Reed appeared Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition" program. He added that what he called the "heart" of any negotiations with North Korea should be discussions with the United States.
"This notion about the format of the talks is less important to me than actually negotiating, or trying to negotiate, it might not be successful, but trying to negotiate with the North Koreans." On the same program, Republican Senator Arlen Specter said he believes there are good reasons for Washington to pursue both tracks. "The multilateral talks are indispensable, if we're to have any sanctions that are effective. And I've been encouraged to see that China is now talking tougher about some effective sanctions. So, from my point of view, they have to be multilateral."
But he pointed to President Reagan's move to talk to the former Soviet Union, after declaring it the "Evil Empire" in the 1980's, as an example of the need to talk to perceived enemies, including North Korea and Iran.
"You have Iran, wants to be part of the nuclear club. North Korea wants to pound its chest. Well, let's talk to them. The issue is serious enough with North Korea, with their having nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them, that I think we ought to use every alternative, including direct bilateral talks."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just wrapped up a trip to the region that included stops in Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Moscow. She sought support for recently-passed U.N. sanctions against North Korea and warned Pyongyang against any
further nuclear tests.