N Korean nuclear offer splits US

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The Independent Online
A NORTH KOREAN offer of a deal over nuclear inspections was being considered at a top-level meeting in the White House yesterday, but the United States and South Korea went ahead with annual military exercises despite a complaint from Pyongyang that they were 'provocative'.

The Foal Eagle war games, which began yesterday, are smaller in scale than the Team Spirit exercises, held every spring, which simulate front-line action. North Korea says it will allow inspection of some of its nuclear facilities in return for the cancellation of Team Spirit, which it considers a rehearsal for invasion.

The State Department is urging President Bill Clinton to accept the proposal to end the crisis in relations with North Korea, caused by US fears that the Koreans are building nuclear weapons. Officials argue that the deal would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to enter the Yongbyon nuclear complex, from which it has been banned. Acceptance is being opposed by the Central Intelligence Agency, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Department, because they say it does not include the right to future inspection of two sites where North Korea is suspected of producing more plutonium than it has admitted.

President Clinton's three senior foreign policy lieutenants - the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, the Defence Secretary, Les Aspin, and the National Security Adviser, Tony Lake - were scheduled to meet yesterday to decide how to respond to the North Koreans. Specialists on North Korea accuse the Pentagon and CIA of systematically exaggerating the threat it poses.

Proponents of a deal with the North Koreans say they will only give up their nuclear option and allow full nuclear inspection if the US promises in return to establish diplomatic relations, promote mutual force reductions on the Korean peninsula and move to end North Korea's economic isolation. President Clinton said flatly this month that North Korea must not be allowed to develop a nuclear bomb.