The fallout continues over U.S. special envoy to North Korea Joseph DeTrani's efforts a couple of weeks ago in yet another meeting with the North Koreans about their nuclear weapons programs.

These gatherings are always fun for the North Koreans. The only thing they do is say no to any proposal -- even to proposals to have further meetings. Then someone -- the Chinese, South Koreans, Russians or Japanese -- always ends up giving them something, a door prize, the floral centerpiece, whatever, to take home. Such a deal.

But the latest five-day "working-level" session in Beijing -- which cost the Chinese a big boost in food aid to North Korea just to get them to show -- was going to prove different.

DeTrani apparently took a somewhat creative approach to find ways to move the talks along. The Washington Times reported that he renewed an offer to give North Korea a light-water nuclear reactor program -- less suitable for making nukes -- in return for their giving up their nuclear program and submitting to inspections.

The State Department said absolutely no offer was made, although the North Koreans brought up the light-water reactor idea. But there was much unhappiness among Pentagon and Hill hard-liners who want no concessions to the North Koreans until after they give up their nuke program. There was chatter that DeTrani had overstepped his bounds. (Or maybe read from the wrong paper?) DeTrani, we're told, made no specific promises on other matters to the Kim Jong Il crowd, which proudly boasts about lying through its teeth when it agreed in 1994 to forgo its program. Rather, DeTrani tossed out broad ideas.

Even so, some meeting participants are said to have almost passed out when he allegedly mused that, as part of an overall deal, Washington might look at President Bush signing some security assurances in a bilateral ceremony or even promising never to use nukes on North Korea. After all, a lot of nations in Asia have been relying on the U.S. nuclear umbrella for a long time.

But a State Department official said yesterday that DeTrani did not offer bilateral, only multilateral, security assurances. In any event, the North Koreans naturally said no to everything. The scheduled five-day round of talks ended after three days, allowing time for any damage-repair efforts to begin promptly.

Whacking an Ally on Trade

Speaking of Asia, let's hope the Japanese don't think their membership in the mighty Coalition of the Willing is going to earn them any kudos or insulate them from condemnation on other matters.

No way. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), House GOP fundraiser extraordinaire, issued a blistering attack at some major Asian trading partners in a recent congressional newsletter to his constituents. The headline was "A New Red Menace; Pushing China Back."

"China and its fellow currency parasites (Japan and Korea)," the item began, "are sucking the life blood out of our economy and it must stop. That's why Mike introduced the first bill in Congress designed to stop Chinese currency manipulation, and in January, he succeeded in creating a new office devoted solely to fighting illegal Chinese imports."

"Currency parasites?" Kinda catchy.

Chewing Over Trade, Part 2

But there's great news from Asia for people in Illinois and Singapore. Singaporeans, barred by their government for the last 12 years from chewing gum, will be able to get the stuff again -- although only in pharmacies and only to registered users, according to wire service reports.

And people in Illinois, where Wrigley's Orbit gum is made, will be allowed to sell their product once more in Singapore.

The country banned the sticky stuff after fastidious founding father Lee Kuan Yew found it was making the streets, buildings and buses simply too messy. Even under the new rules, pharmacists who don't register buyers' names and ID numbers are looking at two years in the slammer and a fine of nearly $3,000.

But is the odd city-state voluntarily loosening up some of its tight social controls? No, the change is actually a product of trade-talk pressure from Washington. Seems Illinois Rep. Philip M. Crane (R) had been threatening to gum up the works until Singaporeans were granted the right to Wrigley's.

So Singapore's Health Sciences Authority a few months ago allowed the sale of 19 "medicinal" and "dental" gum products, which are now at drugstores everywhere -- apparently without prescription.

Special-Interest Amendment?

Typo of the year: This from Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, in his book "Centennial Crisis." On Page 217, there's a discussion of the Civil Rights Cases of 1883. The high court struck down the 1875 Civil Rights Act, he wrote, "saying that the Fourteenth Amendment was directed to stage actors and not the conduct of private owners of public accommodations."

Is this what's commonly known as the infamous "Thespian Clause"? Should have read "state" actors, or state officials.

A Political Connection

Web tales: Folks who are interested the movie "Fahrenheit 9/11," Michael Moore's bitterly anti-President Bush documentary on the Iraq war, might visit www.fahrenheit911movie.com. If they do, they'll find themselves on the Bush '04 Web site, featuring a picture of a forlorn-looking Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

The Editors Goofed

Speaking of Kerry, that bicycle spill he took earlier this month was in Concord, Mass., not Concord, N.H.