U.S. legislators seek North Korea visit


2004.05.17
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Kirk calls aid key to solving other problems

WASHINGTON�A delegation of U.S. legislators is in talks with North Korea about a possible visit to the tightly closed country, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk told RFA�s Korean service. �I think this aid can open the door for solving political problems,� he said.

�If we reach an agreement on visiting North Korea, we will discuss measures of expanding food provisions, supporting hospitals and medical resources, and providing help in the agricultural area,� Kirk, a Republican from Illinois, said in an interview.

How many members of the U.S. Congress would visit North Korea, where they would go, and when have yet to be decided, Kirk said.

�We are in the process of discussing the issue of visiting North Korea to talk about such issues. Private companies in the Chicago area where I work and many Korean-Americans are willing to participate,� he said. �I think this aid can open the door for solving political problems. And more contact should be promoted between the two nations, whether at the governmental level or the private level.�

�Humanitarian help is the only purpose of the visit to North Korea. I have been working on aid since 1996, and I have personally visited North Korea. This is very important in my political activities,� he said. �Children in North Korea are waiting for help from the international community. We should not ignore the kids because of political reasons.�

In addition to its chronic food and fuel shortages, North Korea has been struggling in recent weeks to cope with casualties from a deadly train explosion near the Chinese border.

Pyongyang recently accepted U.S. $100,000 in American medical aid for victims of the blast. At least 160 people were killed and 1,300 injured in the April 22 explosion in Ryongchon.

North Korean media blame the explosion on electric cables that ignited explosive chemicals and oil being transported on a passing train. North Korean state media say the explosion also destroyed 30 public buildings and at least 8,100 homes.

Many other countries have responded to the accident, including South Korea, Russia, China, Australia, Germany and Japan.

South Korea and the United States have been frozen in a standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program since October 2002, when Washington accused Pyongyang of breaking a 1994 nuclear freeze by launching a secret weapons drive

�I am very interested in food aid to North Korea,� Kirk said. �I also had a discussion with President [George] Bush on the issue, explaining that the food provisions should not be discontinued. This plan to visit North Korea came from consultation with other government officials. It has been well explained to North Korea that the only purpose of the visit is humanitarian help, which has no relation to political activities. And North Korea also understood this point very well.�

Kirk represents the 10th Congressional District of Illinois located in the suburbs north of Chicago. He is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and serves on three of its subcommittees: Foreign Operations, Commerce/Justice/State, and Legislative Branch. #####

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