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Talk with Korea

The threat from this out-of-control regime cannot be underestimated

Los Angeles Times

The Bush administration's proclaimed willingness to talk directly with North Korea about its nuclear weapons program is overdue. Today would be a fine time to start. Meanwhile, it would hardly seem rash for the Pentagon to be thinking of sending more bombers to the area to protect our troops. Let's recap: In October, the Bush administration confronted North Korea with evidence that the Stalinist regime was trying to produce enriched-uranium weapons. Dictator Kim Jong Il's underlings said North Korea had a right to those armaments. Washington cut off fuel oil shipments. Pyongyang kicked out the United Nations monitors who were there to keep an eye on its nuclear program. The danger is that North Korea will build five or six nuclear weapons a year ' to go with the one or two it is believed to have now ' and sell a weapon or plutonium to another nation. That could spur South Korea and Japan to rethink their nonnuclear policies as well.

Washington insisted the situation was not a crisis and remained focused on Iraq. North Korea kept increasing the tension and Wednesday announced it had resumed normal operations at a nuclear reactor unused for nearly a decade but capable of producing weapons-grade uranium. The nation's foreign minister also said that if North Korea felt any more threatened, it might have to launch a pre-emptive strike against U.S. forces.

Finally seeming to recognize that it might have a crisis on its hands, the Bush administration said Thursday that despite shipping tens of thousands of troops to the Persian Gulf, it still maintained robust plans for dealing with North Korea. But an attack, no matter how robust, is a terrible idea, as that totalitarian nation's missiles and — million soldiers could hammer the 38,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, as well as the population they are there to protect.

The U.S. Senate, angry at North Korea's violation of previous commitments to freeze nuclear weapons production, should follow its instincts and reject Pyongyang's demands for a formal treaty.

But it's time for Washington to stop shouting blackmail and repeat that it can help the desperately poor country with food and fuel ' so long as it lets nuclear inspectors back in and halts its atomic weapons program. Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this week, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage reiterated Washington's line ' that it wants an international response to these latest provocations. Indeed, there has been far too little international pressure on Pyongyang.

Still, North Korea insists its discussions be with Washington, not other countries. There is good reason for the United States to start talking ' and perhaps offer written nonaggression assurances ' while trying to get other countries to turn up the heat on a nation that is wobbling out of control.

Reasons for optimism at home The Washington Post

Gloom, doom, recession, war clouds on the horizon: Reading the newspaper nowadays, any reasonable person would have to conclude that life in America is getting harder every year. But not everything is growing worse and worse.

Perfectly timed (as if designed to make us feel better), the Census Bureau has just released figures showing that, if nothing else, our houses are becoming more comfortable.

In 1940, only 55 percent of Americans had hot water, flush toilets and bathtubs or showers. In 2000, the figure was 99 percent.

In 1960, only 79 percent of Americans had access to a telephone inside their homes or shared with neighbors. In 2000, 98 percent had a telephone inside.

The average new American house has grown, since 1970, from 1,500 square feet to 2,266 square feet in 2000. Some 98 percent of us own a television. Of these, 85 percent have a VCR.

By contrast, only 38 percent of Angolans have access to clean water. Hard times are in the eye of the beholder.