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Congressional Delegation To Return to North Korea

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Congressional Delegation To Return to North Korea

Associated Press, January 4, 2005

WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress plan to travel to Pyongyang, North Korea, next week, more than a year after a scheduled trip to the Communist-led country was scuttled because of White House opposition.

This time, President Bush´s administration isn´t standing in the way of the bipartisan delegation, Rep. Curt Weldon (R., Pa.) said Tuesday.

Mr. Weldon, who is coordinating the trip, led a group of lawmakers to the country in May 2003. They were the first U.S. officials to visit North Korea since it acknowledged having a clandestine nuclear program.

The delegation sought to return in October 2003, but Mr. Weldon scrapped the trip when the White House objected. Since then, Mr. Weldon said, the administration has notified him that it would approve a return trip.

Mr. Weldon said the visit to Pyongyang will be part of an effort to keep a dialogue open between the U.S. and North Korea. "This is not just some Johnny-come-lately or shoot-from-the-hip approach," he told reporters during a news conference in the House Armed Services committee room. Like the previous visit to North Korea, Mr. Weldon said lawmakers on the trip will simply attempt to show North Koreans "the real face of America."

"We don´t go as diplomats," Mr. Weldon said. "We´re not going over to negotiate anything," or to represent Mr. Bush, he said.

The delegation, which leaves the U.S. on Sunday, will meet with high-ranking government officials and visit schools, shopping centers and other community areas in Pyongyang. The lawmakers also will visit Russia, South Korea, China and Japan, the four other countries in negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program. At the end of the trip, the delegation also plans to fly to Southeast Asia to deliver supplies to tsunami-stricken communities.

The other members of the delegation are: Reps. Solomon Ortiz (D., Texas), Silvestre Reyes (D., Texas), Fred Upton (R., Mich.), Roscoe Bartlett (R., Md.), and Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.).

(News Service) 1/4/2005