WASHINGTON – In his first known direct communication with the leader of North Korea, whom his administration has called a “tyrannical rogue,” President Bush sent Kim Jong Il a hand-signed letter reminding him of his commitment to disclose the details of his country’s nuclear weapons program by the end of the year, the White House said Thursday.
The letter was one in a series Bush dispatched to participants of the so-called six-party talks aimed at securing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. It was given to the North Korean foreign minister Dec. 1, the White House said.
Moving into the final year of his term, Bush appeared to be using his personal involvement to pressure both North Korea and others in the talks to keep their efforts on track to resolve what long has been one of the most intransigent issues on Washington’s foreign-policy agenda.
At the same time, the letter to Kim suggested that Bush, in order to accomplish that goal, was setting aside the scorn he has heaped on the mercurial leader, whose country he yoked with Iran and Iraq in 2002 as being the “axis of evil.”
On Oct. 3, North Korea reaffirmed a previous commitment to provide, by the end of the year, details about its nuclear program – including the number of weapons in its arsenal and the extent of its program to enrich uranium, which can be used in a nuclear power plant or in a nuclear warhead.
It agreed, among other things, to list precisely how much weapons-grade nuclear material it had produced and whether it had provided nuclear material or information to others.
The agreement represented a major shift in the year since North Korea’s long-clandestine nuclear program produced an underground nuclear explosion.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said the letter to the North Korean leader was sent as a “reminder” of the commitment to provide “a complete and accurate declaration” about the nuclear operations.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who delivered the letter, already had made similar points to North Korean officials, but they appeared to have signaled that whatever report they produced by the Dec. 31 deadline would be less than complete.