U.S. Lawmakers Arrive in North Korea

Six U.S. lawmakers hoping to ease tensions with North Korea (search) arrived in Pyongyang on Friday, becoming the first American officials to visit since a standoff began over the secretive communist nation's nuclear program.

North Korea's official news agency, KCNA, said the U.S. delegation, led by Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. (search), had arrived and were to discuss "important issues" with senior officials. KCNA was monitored from Seoul.

An official at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said the embassy had no contact with the U.S. delegation.

Before leaving Washington, Weldon said he would tell North Korean officials that economic aid and trade lie ahead if Pyongyang abandons its nuclear program and improves relations with the United States. Weldon is the second-highest ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The lawmakers aren't traveling as envoys of President Bush. But they are trying to restart a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang that has run aground over whether talks to end North Korea's nuclear program should be bilateral or involve other nations.

North Korea wants one-on-one talks with the United States. U.S. officials say the North's nuclear ambitions are a regional problem and talk should involve nearby countries like South Korea and Japan.

The delegation was to meet with North Korea's No. 2, Kim Yong Nam, before leaving for South Korea on Sunday. No meeting has been arranged with top leader Kim Jong Il (search).

The lawmakers expect to visit a school, a factory, a church and a computer center. They have asked to visit North Korea's main nuclear complex at Yongbyon.

The current crisis began in October when the United States said North Korean officials admitted having a clandestine, uranium-based nuclear program. U.S. officials believe North Korea already has one or two nuclear weapons.

Washington said the program violated a 1994 agreement and cut off oil supplies promised under the accord. North Korea then announced it was reactivating an older plutonium program and expelled U.N. inspectors.

Other members of the delegation are Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Texas Democrats Solomon Ortiz and Sylvester Reyes.