- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

The United States has formally proposed to North Korea a multilateral summit to resolve the nuclear standoff and is preparing a U.N. Security Council measure calling on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear ambitions, U.S. officials said yesterday.
But the measure, which will not be a resolution but a statement issued by the council president for the month, is being held up by China, the officials told The Washington Times.
They said Beijing, which presented the summit proposal to the North on behalf of Washington earlier this month, wants to wait for an official response not only because any U.N. action might anger Kim Jong-il's regime, but also because of recent indications that the regime may be "softening" its opposition to multilateral talks.
"We have broad support in the Security Council and it's just a matter of time when the statement will be issued," one administration official said. "China doesn't object to it, but it would like first to hear back from the North Koreans."
Another official said the Chinese "have been saying, 'Let's wait and see how this track will play out,'" referring to the idea of a multilateral forum, which the Bush administration says is the only way of finding a lasting solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula.
Some American officials said the United States proposed holding a six-party summit, with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia. Others insisted, however, that the offer contained no fixed number of participants. They said another possible formula is to also include Australia, Britain, France and the European Union.
"What is important to us is not the number of countries but that North Korea agrees to participate," a senior administration official said. "We don't want to start talks without North Korea."
Although there has not been an official response from Pyongyang, U.S. officials and Asian diplomats said the North, which has been calling for direct talks with the United States, may be willing to give up some ground.
"We have detected indications of possibly some softening of that," James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
A State Department official said yesterday, "We have had reasons for some time to think that we can put together a forum at which North Korea will be present. We are not at a point yet where we are able to have a meeting, but we are ready to have it."
The senior administration official, however, said, "We still can't say if it will come together."
Some U.S. officials said North Korea may be coming to terms with the administration's resolve not to engage in the kind of bilateral negotiations that produced the now-defunct 1994 nuclear accord, known as the Agreed Framework.
But others suggested that China may be trying to entice the North into participating in a multilateral forum by saying that it would be a "disguise" for bilateral talks with the United States. That indication, one official said, was conveyed in a cable from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, which hinted that China itself believes the "disguise" theory.
Moreover, officials said, some in the Bush administration have advocated the idea that such a forum would be a cover for direct dialogue. It would satisfy the proponents of bilateral talks while saving the hawks from appearing to soften their stance.
Those arguments reflect the deep divisions on North Korea policy that have plagued the Bush administration since it came to office more than two years ago.
The hawks were convinced that the discovery that the North had been secretly enriching uranium for years, while receiving free fuel oil and food from the United States for having frozen its plutonium program, would silence the doves.
But the doves say the hawks have disliked the Agreed Framework all along and tried to kill it even before the uranium effort came to light late in the summer. The North Koreans acknowledged its existence in a meeting with Mr. Kelly in October.
The United States sent the summit proposal to China earlier this month, days after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell returned from a four-day trip to Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul, one official said. The Chinese government, which had discussed various multilateral ideas with Mr. Powell, as had the Japanese and South Korean authorities, later passed the offer on to Pyongyang.
"Since the trip, we've been in dialogue back and forth with Japan, South Korea and China," a senior administration official said.
Mr. Powell, who meets today with visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan, told reporters on the flight back from Asia that the multilateral approach was gaining support.
But administration officials said Beijing, while backing a broad summit, continues to urge Washington to talk directly with Pyongyang.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency referred North Korea to the Security Council for pulling out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Bush administration said it is not seeking a resolution at this point but rather a general and innocuous presidential statement.
"It's the appropriate initial step for the council," the senior official said.
The administration also has said it is not looking for U.N. sanctions, which the North has warned would be equal to a declaration of war.
Another official said that France, which threatened to veto any U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, has been particularly eager to work with the United States on the North Korean issue.
The European Union said yesterday that it plans to cite Pyongyang before the United Nations as a major abuser of human rights.
U.S.-led U.N. border monitors criticized the North yesterday for withdrawing from military talks at the heavily guarded North-South border.
Pyongyang said Wednesday that it was meaningless for its officers to hold their regular meeting with U.S. liaison officers at the demilitarized zone given the current climate.
"North Korea's decision to back away from dialogue at this time is unfortunate," said a statement from the U.S.-led United Nations Command that monitors the zone.

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