- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 19, 2002

BEIJING Two high-level U.S. officials began a diplomatic scramble after North Korea's admission of a secret nuclear-weapons program. They met yesterday with Chinese officials to discuss the situation in the insular Stalinist nation, the U.S. Embassy said.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs James Kelly left a Beijing hotel yesterday morning for what American officials said was a full slate of meetings. Neither spoke to reporters outside the hotel.

"A number of issues are on the agenda, including North Korea," a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said, reading from a statement. She would not give details of any meetings.

According to the official Xinhua news agency, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said the two sides exchanged "constructive and beneficial" views on relations between China and the United States, as well as significant international and regional issues.

"We hold that the nuclear issue in the DPRK should be solved through peaceful means, through dialogues and consultations," Miss Zhang was quoted as saying.

In Washington on Thursday, reporters were told that the Chinese were stunned upon learning that North Korea acknowledged to U.S. officials that it was pursuing a nuclear-weapons program.

Mr. Bolton will travel to Russia, Britain and France after leaving China, the embassy said. Mr. Kelly will travel to Seoul during the weekend and Tokyo early next week "to confer further with our Asian allies," the spokeswoman said.

A top South Korean negotiator planned to travel today to the communist country, with Seoul anxious to gauge whether North Korea wants dialogue or confrontation over its nuclear-weapons program.

Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun was to travel to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, for talks scheduled well before the revelation that North Korea admitted developing nuclear bombs. Mr. Jeong's original plan was to promote projects to bring peace to the divided Korean Peninsula, but those measures are in jeopardy.

South Korea says dialogue is the best way to deal with concerns about North Korea, including the nuclear issue. But its engagement policy is under severe strain because of a perception that the North has repeatedly duped its neighbor over the years.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported from Pyongyang yesterday that officials there believe that the United States revealed the nuclear-arms program to put pressure on North Korea in talks.

"It is being suggested here that the United States deliberately publicized [North Koreas] 'nuclear' admission ahead of meetings of representatives of North and South Korea," Tass reported.

Tass and China's Xinhua are the only two foreign news organizations operating regularly in North Korea.

Mr. Kelly led the U.S. delegation to Pyongyang Oct. 3-5 that confronted North Korean officials with information that the North was developing nuclear weapons in violation of a 1994 agreement.

The North Koreans initially denied the charge but then admitted it the following day, U.S. officials said. President Bush denounced North Korea earlier this year as part of an "axis of evil," saying it sponsored terrorism. He named Iran and Iraq as the other two.

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