- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

The United States and its allies face divergent agendas as they prepare for the opening of three days of talks with North Korea tomorrow over Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program.

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, the lead U.S. negotiator, and top envoys from South Korea, Japan and Russia arrived in the Chinese capital yesterday.

China and North Korea also will be seated around the six-sided table at the exclusive Diaoyutai state guesthouse in Beijing in a format that presented its own diplomatic challenges.

North Korea consistently had rejected multilateral talks on its nuclear programs, insisting on direct one-on-one talks with Washington.

The first and third day of the talks this week will follow the multilateral format favored by Washington, but time has been set aside Thursday for informal bilateral meetings in which U.S. and North Korean delegates could talk.

“Obviously, when you are in a room and holding talks with six parties, there are opportunities to raise issues with any of your interlocutors across the table or across the room,” said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker.

Mr. Kelly’s arrival in Beijing yesterday came about 10 months after Pyongyang acknowledged having a nuclear program, in direct violation of pledges made to the Clinton administration under a 1994 deal.

“We’ll be getting going on Wednesday morning, and we’re looking forward to a direct and fair exchange of views,” said Mr. Kelly, the department’s point man on East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Russian envoy Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov and South Korean negotiator Lee Soo-hyuck played down hopes of any early breakthrough in the talks, saying it would be progress enough just to begin multilateral discussions on the nuclear standoff that has unnerved the region.

“These talks are the beginning of a long negotiating process,” Mr. Lee said.

Bush administration officials hope the talks will focus pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to abandon efforts to manufacture and possibly export nuclear weapons, and to allow international inspectors back into the secretive communist state.

The North has sent out conflicting signals about the talks, but has demanded a formal non-aggression pact from the United States. The North needs extensive humanitarian and development aid to boost its collapsing economy.

While the United States has taken a tough line, South Korea and China are deeply worried about a rapid collapse of the North Korean regime, which could create economic chaos and a regional refugee crisis.

Japan also has said it will raise the issue of its nationals kidnapped by North Korean intelligence agents in the 1970s and 1980s to train as spies.

U.S. officials have said each party to the talks is free to raise any issue, but Pyongyang has denounced the Japanese position as a “foul purpose to create a complication in the way of the talks.”

In Niigata, Japan, yesterday, officials barred a North Korean ferry suspected of smuggling missile parts and illicit funds from leaving port after the ship failed increased safety inspections. The ferry — the only direct transportation link between Japan and North Korea — has become a target for protesters seeking the return of abducted Japanese citizens and their relatives.

Sharon Behn contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports.

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