- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told a North Korean diplomat during a three-minute encounter after lunch that direct dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang on nuclear weapons is out of the question.

A chance encounter brought Mr. Powell and North Korean Ambassador-at-Large Ho Jong together after a luncheon at a security conference sponsored by the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations.

Just moments earlier, Mr. Powell had delivered the same message over lunch to officials of ASEAN and at least 10 other nations, most of them from the Asia-Pacific region:

“There is nothing the North Koreans can say to us that we will not share with our partners. And there is no proposal that will come from us without the concurrence of our partners. There is, therefore, no need for a bilateral dialogue,” Mr. Powell said.

“ASEAN’s help in keeping pressure on North Korea is absolutely necessary if we are to achieve the goal that all of us seek: a diplomatic solution that leaves the peninsula, the region and the world safer,” Mr. Powell said.

“With respect to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction … no issue is of greater urgency to us than North Korea’s nuclear weapons program,” he said. “This is not a bilateral matter between the United States and North Korea. It affects every nation in the region that would fall under the arc of a North Korean missile.”

Mr. Powell’s plea, however, did not appear to have received full and immediate backing by the entire group.

Except for Japan, South Korea and Australia, which have been on board for several months, the rest of the countries at the conference chose to limit their statements to their previously expressed views that the Korean Peninsula must remain free of nuclear weapons.

ASEAN’s members are Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The larger group at the conference, known as the ASEAN Regional Forum, also includes the United States, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, Canada, India, North Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Russia and the European Union.

North Korea, meanwhile, continued to issue what have become almost daily threats of nuclear war.

“It has become clear that the U.S. insistence on multilateral talks is not to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully but to camouflage its act of isolating and stifling our country,” the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The Rodong Sinmun newspaper, which is an organ of the ruling Workers’ Party, said: “It is quite clear that [North Korea] can never accept the U.S. demand that it scrap its nuclear weapons program first.”

During the last meeting between the United States and North Korea in April in Beijing, the latter privately admitted to possessing nuclear weapons.

In October, Pyongyang had confessed to developing a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of a 1994 agreement with Washington.

A senior State Department official traveling with the secretary said that Mr. Powell “bumped into” Mr. Ho, the North Korean representative, at the meeting.

They shook hands and exchanged a few words about the bilateral and multilateral approaches to talks, but these were nothing more than restatements of their well-known positions, the official said.

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