U.S. Aid to N. Korea Said to Slow Arms Program

Former defense secretary William Perry said yesterday that North Korea could have produced about 50 nuclear weapons if it had not suspended its nuclear program in return for Western aid under a 1994 agreement.

Perry also told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he has urged President Clinton to maintain the level of U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula and "keep his powder dry."

The administration released a summary of a long-awaited report by Perry, who reviewed U.S. policy toward North Korea and recommended that the United States ease economic sanctions in return for North Korea's willingness to halt its efforts to develop long-range missiles as well as nuclear warheads.

Perry said yesterday that the United States should be willing to restore full diplomatic relations if North Korea agrees to abide by the Missile Technology Control Regime, an international treaty limiting the range of its missiles. But he said that he did not offer to buy North Korean concessions on weapons.

Surplus Hits Four-Decade Record, CBO Reports

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that excluding Social Security, the government ran a $1 billion surplus for the fiscal year just ended, the first time that has happened in four decades.

If the projection holds up--and final figures should be available later this month--the development could have an important political impact on the fight between President Clinton and congressional Republicans over the new year's spending bills.

Both sides have been insisting they will not tap into Social Security surpluses to pay for the spending bills, which would reverse what has been standard procedure for decades.

But since the new estimates show they did not spend any Social Security funds in fiscal 1999, it could be politically harder for them to backtrack in fiscal 2000 and resume spending some of the pension system's surpluses.

Finance Reformers Soften on 'Hard Money' Limit

The chief Senate sponsors of campaign finance legislation signaled grudging willingness to accept an increase in Watergate-era contribution limits as part of a broader effort to reduce the influence of money in politics.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would support an increase as "part of a package that would assure that other fundamental changes were made." McCain and Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) are co-sponsors of legislation to ban "soft money" contributions, the large, unregulated donations by corporations, unions and others to political parties. "Hard money" contributions are limited in size by federal regulations and are given directly to individual candidates for office.

Hard money limits have been unchanged since they were enacted into law in the 1970s, and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) is expected to propose an increase when campaign finance legislation reaches the Senate floor as early as Wednesday.