Despite US Pilot's Release, North Korea Taken to Task

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TWO senior Republican senators say Washington should rethink its nuclear agreement with North Korea, in light of the downing of a US helicopter Dec. 17 and Pyongyang's two-week detention of a captured American pilot.

John McCain of Arizona says the incident shows North Korea is not ready to become ``part of the community of nations.'' And Bob Dole of Kansas, who will become Senate majority leader this week, says he wants hearings on the agreement quickly. The two senators made the remarks on Sunday TV interview programs.

But the Clinton administration plans to go ahead with an oil shipment to North Korea as part of the agreement, which was reached last October in an attempt to halt the North's suspected nuclear-weapons program.

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Anthony Lake, the president's national security advisor, said he saw no reason to delay the shipment, which some members of Congress had suggested as a way to pressure Pyongyang before it released the captured pilot.

The United States is to provide 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, valued at about $4.7 million, by Jan. 21 to help offset energy supplies lost as the North begins converting its nuclear program to one with less potential to produce the kind of plutonium used to make nuclear bombs.

Mr. Lake said international inspectors had been able to verify that Pyongyang had frozen the old program, as required under the bilateral deal. ``The North Koreans are abiding by everything that they said that they would do, which is to put ... a freeze on their nuclear program, and I think perhaps to the surprise of some of their critics, to verify, it,'' he said on the NBC program ``Meet the Press.''

Lake made his remarks on Friday shortly after North Korea released Chief Warrant Officer Bobby Hall, the Army pilot who survived the Dec. 17 downing of his scout helicopter in the North. His copilot, David Hilemon, died in the incident. Mr. Hall returned to his rural Florida home early Saturday.

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