- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in South Korea Monday to attend Tuesday's inauguration of the country's new leader and to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis.

On the last stop of his four-day trip to Asia, Powell was also scheduled to discuss the future of security ties with Seoul, U.S. Embassy staff said.

Just after attending Roh Moo-hyun's inauguration ceremony, Powell was scheduled to visit the presidential office for talks with Roh that were to focus on North Korea.

Rifts have emerged between the two allies in dealing with North Korea, with Seoul calling for direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang to end the four-month dispute. Roh, who was elected president after pledging to seek reconciliation with North Korea and an equal partnership with the United States, has publicly opposed the use of any forceful means to resolve the nuclear standoff.

His predecessor, outgoing President Kim Dae-hung, holds the same view.

"More than anything, dialogue between North Korea and the United States is the important key to a solution," he said in a farewell address.

Powell was greeted by anti-U.S. protests in South Korea and verbal attacks by North Korea.

A group of anti-U.S. activists gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, insisting his trip was aimed at putting pressure on Seoul to join Washington's bid to punish Pyongyang. They waved banners and chanted anti-war and anti-U.S. slogans.

"No war. No war," they chanted.

North Korea also fired a fresh rhetorical attack Monday, criticizing planned U.S.-South Korean war games to open next month. The official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the annual military drills were designed to "block the reconciliation and reunification process of the Korean nation and, furthermore, ignite a war against the northern half of Korea."

Powell came to Seoul from meetings in Beijing with top Chinese officials on the Iraq and North Korea.

The Bush administration is trying to drum up diplomatic support in the region for a new U.N. resolution on Iraq as well as a greater consensus in the region on North Korean.

Powell met with his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Vice President Hu Jintao and President Jiang Zemin Monday before heading to Seoul in the late afternoon.

Despite an exchange of diplomatic niceties, key differences remain between the two countries on the approach toward successful resolution of the issues.

The United States is looking for China, as a member of the U.N. Security Council not to veto a proposed second resolution that would authorize military action against Iraq for its failure to comply with U.N. Resolution 1441, which warns of "serious consequences" if Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein does not get rid of his weapons of mass destruction.

"It would be inappropriate of me to press Beijing to support or not veto a new U.N. Security Council resolution because it has not been tabled yet," Powell said Monday.

U.S. foreign policymakers are also trying to have China play a greater role in moderating the behavior of its long-time ally and client, North Korea. China is the largest donor of food and fuel to the isolated Stalinist state.

The nuclear crisis was triggered last October when Washington said that North Korea admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program in direct violation of the 1994 framework agreement reached with the United States.

At a news conference held after the second of his three meetings, Powell described discussions with Chinese leaders as "part of an ongoing process of frequent consultations taking the United States-China relationship to a new dimension in addressing issues of worldwide concern."

When asked what else Chinese leaders could be doing with North Korea, Powell said, "I think they are anxious to play as helpful a role as they can."

After his meeting with Powell, Tang was quoted in the state-run media as saying, "This current visit will enhance mutual cooperation and understanding between our two countries."

He and Powell then left for closed-door discussions that both sides later described as positive.

In the mid-morning, Powell held talks with Hu, heir apparent in China's leadership succession. Hu is expected to replace Jiang Zemin as the country's next president when its National People's Congress convenes in early March.

Hu was quoted in the state-run media reiterating China's call for Iraq "to fully, strictly and earnestly implement resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council, and honor its words of possessing no weapons of mass destruction."

China, however, does not want a military solution to the Iraqi issue.

On North Korea, Hu said, "historical experience has shown that the DPRK nuclear issue can only be properly settled through dialogue and consultation," adding, "China hopes the United States and the DPRK will conduct direct dialogues as soon as possible."

The acronym DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the official name for North Korea.

The Chinese position stands in stark contrast to U.S. effort at generating multilateral discussions on North Korea.

Powell said, "This is not a bilateral issue but affects regional security," adding, "I cannot emphasize this seriously enough, North Korea's actions affect Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, the United States as well as the United Nations, and the International Atomic Energy Agency."

"We and the Chinese share the goal of seeking a nuclear free Korean peninsula and having this issue resolved peacefully through diplomatic dialogue," Powell said.

After the news conference, Powell returned to the Great Hall of the People to meet with Jiang, where in addition to listening to Powell's position on Iraq and North Korea, China aired its concerns on Taiwan. The two sides also discussed human-rights issues.

In Seoul, Powell was also due to meet with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer before leaving the country.


(Lanfranco reported from Beijing and Lee from Seoul, South Korea)

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