- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

A U.S. delegation left for three days of talks with North Korea in Beijing yesterday the first such meeting in six months after Pyongyang clarified a Friday statement about the progress of its nuclear weapons program.

The State Department, the leading agency in the dialogue with the North, said the United States' goal is to discuss "a verifiable and irreversible end" to all nuclear efforts. But it expects the North Koreans to bring up other issues as well.

"Multilateral talks involving the United States, China and North Korea will take place April 23-25 in Beijing," Richard Boucher, State Department spokesman, told reporters. "We intend to conduct serious talks on the situation created by North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Mr. Boucher noted China's key role in persuading Pyongyang to agree to a meeting somewhat different from its initial demand for one-on-one talks with the United States. He said Beijing will be a full participant in the discussions.

"We appreciate China's efforts to achieve the international community's shared goal of a peaceful and stable Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons," he said.

North Korea yesterday corrected a statement it had made Friday that said: "As we have already declared, we are successfully reprocessing more than 8,000 spent fuel rods at the final phase."

The statement, which prompted some Bush administration officials to call for canceling the Beijing talks, led to confusion in Washington, where intelligence sources said there was no indication that reprocessing had actually begun.

U.S. officials on Friday blamed the confusion on bad translation from Korean to English by the North's KCNA news agency. They offered a different version, saying that Pyongyang was in the final stages of preparing to start reprocessing.

In the corrected translation, the KCNA said: "As we have already declared, we are successfully going forward to reprocess work more than 8,000 spent fuel rods at the final phase."

The U.S. delegation to Beijing, which includes officials from the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is led by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Mr. Kelly is the highest-ranking Bush administration official to have visited Pyongyang. During his first meeting with the North Koreans in early October, he confronted them with evidence they had a secret uranium-enrichment program, to which they admitted the next day.

Since then, a 1994 nuclear deal, known as the Agreed Framework, has in effect been invalidated. North Korea has made steps toward producing plutonium, and the United States has stopped shipments of free fuel oil to the impoverished communist country.

The U.S. delegation, which then had eight members, now includes five officials: Michael Green, director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council; Brig. Gen. Gary North of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; David Straub, director of the Office of Korean Affairs at the State Department; and Jody Green, senior country director for North Korea in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

After the delegation's talks in Beijing, where they will also discuss bilateral issues with China, members will stop in Seoul and Tokyo on their way home, Mr. Boucher said.

The North Korean delegation will be headed by Li Gun, deputy director-general of the American Affairs Bureau at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he said. China will be represented by Fu Ying, director-general of the Asian bureau at the Foreign Ministry.

Mr. Boucher reiterated Washington's insistence that Japan and South Korea, which will be absent from the meetings in Beijing, join the talks with the North as soon as possible.

"We believe that inclusion of others in multilateral talks South Korea and Japan, above all would be essential for reaching agreement on substantive issues," he said.

On Saturday, North Korea proposed reopening its dialogue with South Korea within weeks.

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