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Bush administration distances itself from envoy’s criticism of North Korea policy

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    WASHINGTON — The Bush administration on Friday distanced itself from one of its own officials who criticized U.S. efforts to deal with North Korea’s nuclear programs.
    The State Department and White House sought to portray a unified front in supporting six-nation nuclear talks that have reached an impasse, with the North missing promised deadlines and increasing its hostile rhetoric.
    The U.S. administration was responding to blunt criticism of the disarmament talks Thursday by Jay Lefkowitz, President Bush’s special envoy on North Korean human rights. Lefkowitz said the North is not serious about disarming and will likely ‘‘remain in its present nuclear status’’ after Bush leaves office in January 2009, despite four years of nuclear disarmament efforts by the U.S., the Koreas, Japan, China and Russia.
    ‘‘Let me make it very clear: He is the envoy for issues related to human rights in North Korea,’’ State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Friday. ‘‘He is not, however, somebody who speaks authoritatively about the six-party talks. His comments certainly don’t represent the views of the administration.’’
    White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters that the five nations working to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear programs ‘‘stand together and are unified in that effort.’’
    Lefkowitz’s rare public criticism of U.S. policy on North Korea was at odds with recent statements by other Bush administration officials.
    ‘‘We should consider a new approach to North Korea,’’ Lefkowitz said. ‘‘After four years of six-party talks, it makes sense to review the assumptions upon which previous policy was built and make sure they are still valid today.’’
    Fratto said the administration is ‘‘pleased with the process of disabling’’ the North’s main nuclear reactor.
    ‘‘There’s a great deal of unanimity in dealing with North Korea,’’ Fratto said of the talks.
    McCormack said Lefkowitz was expressing his own opinions. ‘‘His lane is not talking about the six-party talks, the status thereof, his assessment for the prospects of success,’’ McCormack said. ‘‘That’s not his job.’’
    Early in the Bush administration, U.S. officials took a hard line on North Korea. But, recently, they have been cautious not to criticize the North for fear of unraveling the delicate nuclear negotiations.
    When the North missed an end-of-2007 deadline to declare all of its nuclear programs, the comments by the chief U.S. envoy to the nuclear talks were measured. Christopher Hill pushed the North to quickly produce a ‘‘complete and correct’’ declaration. But he also indicated that the U.S. was prepared to wait.
    Hill has said he hopes the North’s declaration would serve as a road map for dismantling its atomic programs by the end of 2008.
    Lefkowitz, in his remarks Thursday, suggested negotiators should link human rights and security concerns, something the current six-nation talks do not do. North Korea’s treatment of its people, he said, is ‘‘inhumane and, therefore, deeply offensive to us.’’
    Former Bush administration officials, including John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, have criticized the current U.S. approach to dealing with North Korea.

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