- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

SEOUL (AP) — North Korea yesterday denounced the recent arrival of U.S. stealth fighter bombers in neighboring South Korea as a signal that Washington was preparing to invade the North.

The North Korean comments came on the same day Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with Pyongyang’s top diplomat at an Asian summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.

A squadron of F-117As arrived earlier this week at Kunsan Air Base south of Seoul. The U.S. military command said the jets would stay for several months of training exercises.

North Korea yesterday called it a sign of ill will as the United States, the two Koreas and three other nations continue negotiations on dismantling communist North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

In the commentary carried by its KCNA news agency, North Korea said “it must not go unnoticed” that fighter bombers arrived just after the latest round in six-nation talks on the nuclear issue. It said the high-tech aircraft were undergoing “training to invade” North Korea.

A group of F-117A stealth fighters came to South Korea last year for similar training, sparking criticism from North Korea at that time as well.

The United States has said it has no plans to invade North Korea. Both countries, along with South Korea, China, Russia and Japan, are engaged in six-nation talks aimed at resolving the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear programs. The participants hope to hold another round of talks by September.

In Jakarta yesterday, Mr. Powell told North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun that he was hopeful that the international negotiations could yield “concrete progress” toward nuclear disarmament in the communist state.

A North Korean statement issued after the meeting said Mr. Paek said he shares Mr. Powell’s goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. But he rejected a U.S. requirement that his country show a serious commitment to disarmament before it can receive economic benefits from Washington.

Mr. Powell and Mr. Paek are in Jakarta for the annual summer meeting of foreign ministers from the Asia-Pacific region. The unannounced, 20-minute U.S.-North Korean encounter was held shortly after 8 a.m. yesterday at a local conference center.

At the six-party talks in Beijing last week, the United States presented a detailed proposal for obtaining a verifiable end to the North’s nuclear ambitions. The plan calls for a step-by-step dismantling of North Korea’s declared and undeclared nuclear weapons programs. In return, the North would receive aid, with Japanese and South Korean energy assistance provided at a relatively early stage. American assistance would come later.

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