- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 (UPI) — Secretary of State Colin Powell left Washington Friday for a visit to Japan and China to discuss the North Korean nuclear standoff.

Powell is scheduled to discuss the North Korean situation with the two regional powers before attending South Korea's presidential inauguration.

The State Department said that during his Feb. 21-25 trip, the secretary will hold discussions with senior officials in the three capitals on "global, regional, and bilateral matters of interest, including Iraq and North Korea."

He is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Saturday. The next day he leaves for Beijing for talks with the Chinese officials. On Feb. 24 and 25 he will be Seoul where he also attend the inauguration of Roh Moo-hyun as president of the Republic of Korea.

In an interview to Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV before his departure, Powell spelled out the basic principles of the U.S. policy towards North Korea: The United States will not invade North Korea; direct talks with North Korea is possible but at a later stage, although talks in a multilateral forum would be more productive; and Washington will continue to consult other Asian nations on this issue.

"We'll continue to communicate through various channels to North Korea that the United States has no intention of invading it," Powell assured the communist regime in Pyongyang.

"Ultimately, we know that we will have conversations with North Korea. We believe those conversations would be more effective and would provide a more lasting solution to the problem if they began in a multilateral framework and they included other nations," he added.

North Korea has repeatedly said it wants direct talks with the United States and has urged Washington to sign a non-aggression pact.

North Korea signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty in 1994 with the United States, South Korea and Japan, but later ousted international observers monitoring its nuclear sites and backed out of the treaty.

In October, the United States reported that North Korea also had admitted to secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program in violation of the treaty.

Pyongyang denied pursing a nuclear weapons program and said it was using its nuclear plants for energy purposes only.

But in December, North Korea refused to clarify a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Pyongyang had an undeclared nuclear enrichment program and later ousted IAEA inspectors.

North Korea withdrew from the nonproliferation treaty soon after IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei reported the problems to the agency's board.

Alarmed by these moves, last month Washington invited senior officials from Japan and South Korea to discuss the North Korean situation. The meeting emphasized the need for a peaceful end to the conflict and urged North Korea to abandon its ambitions for nuclear weapons.

The meeting also led to a series of talks between the North Korean U.N. delegation and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. These talks, however, also failed to end the deadlock.

On Monday, North Korea warned it was prepared to drop out of the armistice that ended the 1953 Korean War.

The latest move forced U.S. to consult other regional powers on the issue and resulted in Powell's visit to Tokyo and Japan for talks on the conflict before a meeting with the new leadership in South Korea.

Observers believe that once Moo-hyun is inaugurated, Washington may make some serious to end the North Korean impasse.

In his interview to Hong Kong's Phoenix TV Powell said he also planned to discuss the Iraq situation, particularly with China — one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

While China also voted for U.N. Resolution 1441, which demands that Iraq rid itself of its alleged weapons of mass destruction, it's not yet clear how would China would now if the United States sought the Security Council's endorsement for a military action against Iraq.

The U.N. Security Council remains divided over the Iraq issue.

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