Skip to comments.North Korea indicates a 'high-level' U.S. visitor might win USS Pueblo's return
Posted on 09/07/2005 12:53:52 AM PDT by HAL9000
WASHINGTON -- Negotiations to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons remain in limbo, but the North Koreans are giving hints they might be ready to end another long-lingering problem with the United States by returning the captured spy ship USS Pueblo.
They are setting an unlikely condition, though, for the return, considering hostile U.S.-North Korean relations: A visit by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice or another top- level American official.
"It would be a gesture, but somebody needs to make a gesture," said Donald Gregg, former U.S. ambassador to South Korea who brought home the offer after a mid-August trip to North Korea.
He told the State Department about his discussions. A department official said there are no plans for a high-level visit to North Korea.
The Pueblo ranks low in the hierarchy of irritants causing bad blood between the two countries. Paramount is the North's admitted nuclear weapons and missile programs. The U.S. has criticized North Korea's human rights record, its maintenance of a million-strong army while its people live off donated food, and what it sees as North Korea's support for terrorism.
Still, to those involved with the Pueblo -- and to the U.S. Navy -- the ship's plight is far more than a footnote to the history of the Cold War.
Sent defenseless on an intelligence-gathering mission off the North Korean coast, and given no help after North Korean torpedo boats mounted an attack, the Pueblo became on Jan. 23, 1968, the first U.S. warship captured since a British ship forced the USS Chesapeake to surrender off the Virginia capes in 1807.
Navy records show the ship was in international waters; the North Koreans insist it was inside the Korean coastal zone. In the attack, an explosion killed fireman Duane Hodges, and 10 of the 82 surviving crewmen were wounded. All 82 were held 11 months, often enduring torture, before being sent to South Korea on Christmas Eve across the "Bridge of No Return" in the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Koreas.
The Pueblo, the only active-duty U.S. warship in the hands of a foreign power, now sits at its moorings on the bank of the Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. Organized tours of North Koreans walk its decks to view evidence of their country's supremacy on the high seas; bullet holes on the bulkheads are circled in red.
Gregg heads the Korea Society in New York, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization dedicated to promoting "awareness, understanding and cooperation between the people of the United States and Korea."
He did not identify the official who suggested a visit as a precursor to the return of the Pueblo. But he told The Associated Press that Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea's vice foreign minister and chief negotiator in the recessed nuclear talks, was among officials in the room and heard the discussion. Gregg said he has no doubt the offer was genuine.
Gregg has asked about the return of the Pueblo on each of his four trips to Pyongyang during the last decade.
When he asked this time, Gregg said, his host told him, "If there were a high-level visit from the United States, we would be prepared to say we no longer need to keep the ship."
Gregg said his host did not specify what was meant by "high-level" visitor, but he said his impression was the Koreans meant at least the secretary of state.
The offer came during a period of relative cordiality in the relationship between the U.S. and a country President George W. Bush has described as part of an "axis of evil."
The last time such an era existed, after an October 2000 visit to Pyongyang by President Bill Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, the North Koreans also had spoken of returning the Pueblo.
That potential deal fell through the following November after Bush won the presidency. He quickly froze relations with the North and accused the Koreans of trying to develop uranium-based nuclear weapons.
Since Gregg's visit last month, Kim Jong Il's government abruptly postponed the talks' resumption because it said exercises by the U.S. and South Korean military forces and the U.S. appointment of a special envoy on North Korea's human rights record had poisoned the political atmosphere.
The talks are expected to resume this month.
Who need it.
The Navy certainly wouldn't want the ship back at the expense of humiliating the United States.
It was obsolete when it occured, and of no value today.
Doesn't this sound like a job for a cruise missile? :)
Way waste 2002 electronics to destroy 1968 electronics?
They've been cloning it for 30 years, but it was obsolete when it was sent.
First off, the Pueblo was NOT a warship..
I half expected to see this in the hit piece:
"And it was Bush's Fault it has stayed captured."
When someone offers you something you really don't want, if you forcefully reject the offer, then you are slamming the giver.
Furthermore, by destroying it where it sits, we demonstrate that it is really ours to do with what we want.
How about we send Norman Schwartzkopf, American military governor of the liberated north of Unite Korea?
*United* Korea. Ooops.
Keep building missle defenses.
Would it be great to drop a precision guided missile right through the center of the Pueblo and show them just how much the Pueblo means to America?
Better yet, Lets gather thousand of Lil Ronery Kim's pictures and burn them on the streets and broadcast this on every N. Korean tv stations (I bet I can already see his reaction)
It's not worth once teaspoon of US prestige. Especially since we were so humiliated the first time around.