- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska Secretary of State Colin L. Powell ended a four-day sweep through Asia yesterday saying he had won broad support for multinational negotiations with North Korea over its efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Mr. Powell also announced a resumption of U.S. food aid to the impoverished communist state.
Mr. Powell visited Japan, China and South Korea to convince them that direct U.S.-North Korean dialogue, which is demanded by North Korea, would not be as effective as multilateral talks or "bilateral talks in a multilateral context."
"If we can get a multilateral discussion going, where we start to exchange views and issues, within that forum the United States will obviously be in discussions with North Korea … and we would see where those discussions lead," he told reporters aboard his plane as he flew back to the United States.
He said he had backing for the idea from Japan, South Korea and Australia, with China still having doubts. "Having listened to counterarguments" to the proposal in different capitals, he said he felt even more strongly about its value.
Shortly before leaving Seoul, the final stop where he attended the inauguration of President Roh Moo-hyun, Mr. Powell pledged an initial delivery of 40,000 metric tons of food to North Korea followed by an additional 60,000 tons before the end of the year.
The amount marks a 57,000-ton cut from food sent to Pyongyang last year, but Mr. Powell insisted that the decrease was not punishment for Pyongyang's nuclear behavior.
Mr. Powell also said a North Korean missile test over the sea separating South Korea and Japan several hours before Mr. Roh's swearing-in was not "particularly shocking or disturbing."
Pyongyang, he said, had been warning mariners for several days that such a test was possible.
"It seems to be a fairly innocuous kind of test, a short-range surface-to-surface naval missile that goes out maybe 60 or so miles. From what I have been able to determine, it's a fairly old system," he said.
Tensions between the United States and North Korea have surged since October, when the United States said North Korea admitted having a secret nuclear-weapons program.
Since then, the United States has halted oil shipments to the North, while North Korea has withdrawn from the global nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, restarted a nuclear reactor and threatened to abandon the Korean War armistice.
A senior U.S. official traveling with Mr. Powell said a multinational forum was the best way to find a long-term solution to the nuclear standoff with North Korea because it would bring together all countries affected by the North's nuclear threat while holding out potential benefits for the starving nation.
In addition, the official said, it would be harder for Pyongyang to scrap an agreement with several countries, as it did the 1994 nuclear deal known as the Agreed Framework.
The framework froze the North's program to make plutonium, a fuel used in atom bombs, in exchange for shipments to North Korea of heavy fuel oil and construction of two light-water nuclear power plants.
Mr. Powell said yesterday that, based on evidence he has seen, reprocessing by North Korea of spent fuel rods into plutonium has not started yet, but if it did, that would "change the entire political landscape."
There is a "sense of urgency but not of panic," he said.
During his trip, the secretary shared with his hosts the idea of having multilateral talks with North Korea within the "five plus five" 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.
Japan, where Mr. Powell met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on Saturday, supported the multilateral concept in general but had some variations of the "five plus five" idea, he said.
The next day in Beijing, President Jiang Zemin, Vice President and Communist Party leader Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan listened to the secretary, but after he left, they renewed calls for bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks "on an equal footing."
Yesterday in Seoul, Mr. Powell met with visiting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who backed the multilateral idea.
Mr. Downer told the secretary that a comment he was reported to have made the day before, saying that "whether one likes it or not … this will have to be resolved bilaterally," had been taken out of context.
Most significantly, Mr. Powell said he had won support from Mr. Roh, who indicated that "he saw the value in a multilateral approach."
According to the senior official traveling with the secretary, Mr. Roh said: "I understand what you are saying regarding a multilateral approach. I agree."
Mr. Roh, whose anti-American campaign rhetoric proved decisive in winning the presidency, also promised to foster and develop Seoul's "cherished alliance" with the United States.
But he said ties between South Korea and the United States need to mature to a "more equal relationship."
Mr. Powell agreed that examining "reciprocity and equitability" in the 50-year alliance was appropriate and that "we should constantly review … how we could be better guests here in South Korea and what kind of footprint we should have in the country."
Mr. Roh has said he doesn't want to see the force of 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea reduced and fully supports a U.S. military role on the Korean Peninsula, even if the North and South unify.

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