- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

TOKYO The Bush administration's push to broaden any dialogue with North Korea to a multilateral process won cautious support yesterday from Japan, its closest ally in Asia a modest boost to Washington's efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff with the reclusive state.
Tokyo was the first and diplomatically least challenging stop on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's first trip to East Asia since Pyongyang acknowledged in October that it had a secret uranium-enrichment program.
During his visits to Japan, China and South Korea, Mr. Powell said he was hoping to convince them that not only the United States but all regional powers should participate in talks with the North.
In meetings with Mr. Powell last night, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said their government "understands and shares" Washington's view, the secretary told reporters at a news briefing at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo this morning.
"The United States and Japan agreed that these concerns must be addressed in a multilateral forum," he said in response to a question from The Washington Times.
Mr. Powell noted that his delegation shared ideas about a forum with the framework of the so-called "5 plus 5" process, which includes the five permanent Security Council members the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France as well as North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Australia and the European Union.
He added that his hosts had "some variations" of that proposal, but the Japanese government had no immediate comment.
Mr. Powell leaves today for Beijing, where the case for anything but direct U.S.-North Korean dialogue will be much more difficult to make.
China and South Korea, as well as Russia, another neighbor of the North that Washington also wants to take part in the multilateral process, have been reluctant to endorse the idea of a multilateral forum. Pyongyang has been calling for one-on-one talks with the United States since its October announcement, during a visit by James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
On his way to Tokyo, Mr. Powell told reporters traveling with him that North Korea's nuclear pursuits seriously affect its "neighbors, who are at a greater risk for this kind of proliferation than" the United States.
"We are looking for a multilateral forum in which to start dialogue," Mr. Powell said.
Meanwhile, a leading Japanese newspaper yesterday quoted an aide to South Korea's President-elect Roh Moo-hyun as saying that Mr. Roh is willing to visit North Korea, if invited, and also hopes to host the North's leader, Kim Jong-il.
In an indication that the South may support the U.S.-backed multilateral process, the adviser, Moon Hee-sang, also told the Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper that Seoul is "in favor of multilateral discussions on resolving the nuclear issue." But he did not specify whether those discussions would completely replace bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks.
Despite some anti-U.S. rhetoric Mr. Roh used during his election campaign and the rising anti-American feelings in his country, Mr. Moon said his boss has nothing personal against Washington.
"The president-elect is not anti-American, and even after the two Koreas are united he would like U.S. troops to remain," Mr. Moon said. "I think if [Mr. Roh and Mr. Kim] meet, it will be possible to clear this up."
Mr. Powell is scheduled to attend Mr. Roh's inauguration on Tuesday.
In another report yesterday, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said that Japan planned to launch its first spy satellites next month in response to a recent North Korea warning that it was free to launch ballistic missiles.
For more than five decades, Japan has lacked the ability to detect missile launches and has depended on the United States for information on regional security.
The two satellites are set to be launched on March 28 from the southwestern island of Tanegashima, the newspaper said, and another two could be launched as early as this summer.
There was no confirmation of the report by Japanese officials.


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