On June 13 U.S. special envoy Jack Pritchard met North Korea's U.N. envoy Li hyong Chol in New York, beginning a dialogue between the Bush administration and the government in Pyongyang. Applauding the administration's decision, an Independent Task Force on Korea sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations asserts that "no critics have offered a better idea than the difficult course of sustained, hard-headed engagement in pursuit of U.S. and allied interests."

This meeting followed the Administration's decision, after a three-month review, to resume negotiations with the North. Earlier this month, the government of North Korea reportedly threatened to call off its self-declared moratorium on missile testing if the U.S. did not continue steps begun by the Clinton administration toward a normalization of relations. Now the Task Force urges the administration to continue on the main thrust of U.S. policy: a reduction of the threat and military confrontation, and a facilitation of a North-South reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula. The Task Force argues that the policy should stay consistent with that of South Korea and Japan, with South Korea taking the lead in an overall engagement of the North.

The Task Force says that U.S. diplomacy should use the 1994 Agreed Framework, and North Korea's ballistic missile program as its starting point, saying that the Framework is "a benchmark of the ability to do business with Pyongyang." Under the Agreed Framework reached in 1994, the government in Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for the building of two light-water reactors (LWRs) by the U.S. lead Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO).

This administration wants an "improved implementation" of the Agreed Framework. While the Task Force acknowledges that there is "room for creativity in implementing and perhaps revisiting" the Agreed Framework, it recommends that the U.S. "should make no unilateral changes to the Agreed Framework and adhere to its implementation." Washington, it adds, should make it clear to Pyongyang that it will not accept any delays in the non-proliferation milestones. The Task Force also recommends that the administration make use of potential opportunities to engage the North Koreans on a revision of the terms of the LWR project, in order to meet the country's immediate energy needs by non-nuclear means.

The Task Force also asserts that "no ambiguous determination by the IAEA" of North Korea's nuclear history should be accepted if the ambiguity involves plutonium amounts that are required for one or more nuclear weapons.

The Task Force also says that it is in U.S. interests to negotiate " a verifiable elimination of North Korea's missile program" that goes beyond the limits required by the Missile Technology Control Regime.

The Task Force argues that while proposals currently on the table to halt Pyongyang's ballistic missile program fall short of U.S. goals, Washington should discuss and pursue these proposals. The proposals include North Korea undertaking the prohibition of all exports of medium and long-range missiles and related technologies in exchange for economic assistance. Further, Pyongyang has said it would stop further indigenous testing and production of missiles above a certain range in exchange for assistance with launching of commercial satellites. North Korea has even offered to freeze current missile deployments. In order to achieve U.S. goals, the Task Force recommends that the U.S. should first address missile exports, and then the problem of development and current deployment. The Task Force also advises integrating U.S. missile concerns with North Korea's energy needs – by offering assistance to upgrade North Korea's energy infrastructure in return for a verifiable dismantling of its deployed Nodong missiles.

For the full executive summary please visit the Council of Foreign Relations' web site at http://www.cfr.org/p/pubs/KoreaTF_summary.html. The Task Force's full finding will be released shortly.