US hopes for deal with North Korea



WASHINGTON (AP)—Senior aides to President Clinton recommended Monday that the United States give up an annual military exercise in return for North Korean permission for immediate inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The recommendations, worked out at a lengthy White House meeting of the National Security Council, are included in a memo to be presented Tuesday to the president, said two U.S. officials who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Clinton is expected to make his decision before he heads to Seattle Thursday for a meeting with Asian leaders, said one official. Clinton will then brief those leaders, among them China’s president Jian Zemin.

China has been instrumental in attempts to get the secretive North Korean government to allow inspections of its nuclear sites, which it stopped allowing last spring after four were conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The United States and North Korea’s Asian neighbors are concerned that the communist Pyonyang government may be developing nuclear weapons and banning the inspections in order to hide this program.

Under the recommendations worked out by Defense Secretary Les Aspin, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other top officials, the United States would publicly announce that it is canceling the annual Team Spirit exercise it holds with South Korea in the spring.

The North has for years demanded the maneuvers be halted, calling them a pretext for war preparations. The 1994 defense budget passed last week did not contain money for the exercise, the official said.

In low-level negotiations with the United States in recent months, North Korean officials have demanded a public announcement that Team Spirit would be canceled, said another U.S. official. The United States was willing to offer private assurances, but the North Koreans said they did not trust anything but a public statement, he said.

In return for such a statement, North Korea must be willing to announce that it would allow immediate IAEA inspections of its declared nuclear sites, both officials said.

The administration believes North Korea is ready to make such a commitment, based in part on a statement last Thursday by a senior Pyongyang offical who said his government would allow the inspections if the United States ‘‘takes a practical action of renouncing the nuclear threat against us.’‘

That comment by deputy foreign minister Kang Sok Chu was taken to refer to Team Spirit.

The immediate deal, however, would not include inspections of two sites where North Korea is suspected of having dumped nuclear waste. The IAEA wants to take samples at those sites in order to determine whether North Korea has developed more bomb-grade plutonium than the tiny amount it claims to have.

The White House aides devoted most of their meeting to discussion of how to get North Korea to accept inspection of those two sites, said one of the two officials.

Under an emerging plan, the United States would offer the impoverished North Koreans some economic incentive in return for permission to conduct such inspections, the official said.

Establishing diplomatic relations with North Korea would not immediately be part of this package, although it would be held out as a carrot pending the successful resolution of the inspections dispute, he said.