- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2003

BEIJING The United States yesterday outlined a broad vision for multilateral talks with North Korea to resolve the latest nuclear standoff with the reclusive state. It includes the participation of a number of countries beyond the major regional powers.
As a first step, Washington proposed that discussions with the North be held within the so-called "5 plus 5" group, whose members are the five nations with permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France as well as North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Australia and the European Union.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who has begun seeking support for the idea during his first trip to East Asia since Pyongyang acknowledged in October that it had a secret uranium-enrichment program, also left the door open to any other nation interested in taking part.
"We will have to find a way forward, and the way forward has to include all the countries in the region and all the countries that have an interest," he told reporters in Tokyo before flying to Beijing, where he began talks with Chinese officials early today. "The United States recognizes its obligation within that context, and is prepared to discharge its obligations."
Mr. Powell was referring to repeated calls from all of North Korea's neighbors as well as the North itself for a direct dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang. But while North Korea is trying to present the problem as one between the two countries, he said, it concerns the security of the entire world.
He argued that a 1994 attempt to resolve the issue bilaterally, when similar circumstances resulted in an agreement that froze the North's plutonium program, failed because of Pyongyang's cheating with its uranium-enrichment effort.
"As we enter into a discussion, it should be multilateral so that we can find a way to put in place assurances for all of the parties … that, as we solve the problem this time, we find a solution that will remove the nuclear potential on the peninsula," the secretary said.
He hinted that Japan, the first stop on his trip, expressed reservations about the U.S. proposal, though seeing it as a good first step in the search for an effective forum to deal with the issue.
"Japan understands and shares [our] view," added Mr. Powell, who met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Saturday. "We had put down one idea of '5-plus-5.' Our Japanese friends have some variations on that idea, and we are in discussions with them."
Armed with Japan's cautious support, Mr. Powell will share Washington's ideas with China today and South Korea tomorrow.
The United States views China's role as particularly important because of its role as Pyongyang's biggest provider of food and energy.
Mr. Powell "looks forward to considering with the Chinese how to build on their existing efforts with North Korea and on their supportive vote in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] as the issue moves to the Security Council," spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters traveling with the secretary en route to Beijing.
China insists it has little influence on the North, but Mr. Powell intends to ask President Jiang Zemin, Vice President and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan to make use of what leverage they have, a senior U.S. official said.
"We understand their point of view and their desire for us to speak directly to [North Korea], and Mr. Tang and I have had long conversations about this," the secretary said Friday. "We recognize that everybody in the region has been taking positions over the weeks that say they hope … that a way will be found for there to be direct U.S.-[North Korean] dialogue."
As Mr. Powell was flying to Asia on Friday, China moved to enhance its friendship with the North during a visit by Kim Yong-nam, Pyongyang's official head of state and de facto second-in-command to Kim Jong-il.
Later today, Mr. Powell travels to South Korea to attend the inauguration tomorrow of President-elect Roh Moo-hyun. After the ceremony, the two will hold talks on North Korea and, more generally, on the troubled relationship between Washington and Seoul.
In an indication the South may support the U.S.-backed multilateral process, Moon Hee-sang, an aide to Mr. Roh, told Japan's Nihon Keizai Shimbun newspaper over the weekend that Seoul is "in favor of multilateral discussions on resolving the nuclear issue." But he did not specify whether those discussions should completely replace bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks.
Despite some anti-U.S. rhetoric Mr. Roh used during his election campaign and rising anti-American feelings in his country, Mr. Moon said his boss "is not anti-American, and even after the two Koreas are united he would like U.S. troops to remain."
Outgoing President Kim Dae-jung, in his final address to the country before handing power to his elected successor, also said American troops should stay.
"For the stability of Northeast Asia, the presence of U.S. troops in South Korea is necessary now and after reunification," Mr. Kim said early today.
The United States maintains 37,000 troops in South Korea under a bilateral alliance that was set up in 1953 at the end of the three-year Korean War.
Mr. Powell said the United States "will maintain our presence on the Korean peninsula for as long as that presence serves a need."
"One of the reasons for my trip to Asia at this time is to be at the inauguration of the new president … and I think my presence is an indication of the importance that we put on our relationship with South Korea," he said.


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