WASHINGTON – Maryland Rep. Roscoe Bartlett said the United States must maintain “open dialogue” with North Korea to persuade the isolated communist country to drop its nuclear weapons program.
The Frederick Republican spoke Tuesday afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base, where he and a delegation of congressmen had just returned from a trip to North Korea and five other nations, including Indonesia where they delivered six tons of tsunami relief supplies.
“I am reminded of a (line) from the Bible: If you would have friends, be friendly,” Bartlett said of the approach the United States should take with the North Koreans.
The delegation members — three Democrats and three Republicans — said they spoke informally with North Korean officials in an effort to get that government to participate in the six-party nuclear disarmament talks aimed at the communist country.
Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., called the delegation’s trip “an overwhelming success.” Provided there is no inflammatory language in President Bush’s inaugural or State of the Union speeches, North Korea will likely join the six-party talks about nuclear disarmament, Weldon said.
“I don’t think all of us can hug and sing songs together,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., another delegation member. “But Bush should seize this opening. Belligerent rhetoric will only set us back.”
Bartlett and Weldon stressed that they were not trying to be diplomats on the trip and were not there to speak for the administration, but rather to represent their districts. A spokeswoman for Bartlett said one reason he went is because he sees national security as “the most important job in Congress.”
Weldon said he hopes to go back during Congress’ March recess to continue talks.
Delegation members described their talks with North Korean officials as “frank.” But they said that while the North Koreans claimed to be a nuclear power and conceded that nuclear disarmament is a good thing, government officials there also denied having a uranium enrichment program, according to Weldon.
Bartlett said he is convinced the trip was a success based in part on the reception the delegation got from the North Korean press, which said the United States and North Korea could be “friendly.”
“No one would believe it,” Bartlett said of the statements in the country’s press.
In addition to speaking with lawmakers from the other countries involved in the six-party talks — South Korea, Russia, China and Japan — the delegation’s 10-day trip stopped Sunday in Indonesia. There, it delivered six tons of medical supplies, food, teddy bears and other goods that constituents donated for tsunami victims.
Bartlett spokeswoman Lisa Wright said the Indonesia visit was not originally part of the long-planned trip. But after the tsunami hit, the delegation added an Indonesian stop and “got a bigger plane and loaded up every bit of it” with donated relief supplies.
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