- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 2 (UPI) — Senior officials from the United States, Japan and South Korea will meet in Washington next week to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis, the U.S. State Department said Thursday.

The two-day conference, which is to begin Monday, will look for expanding cooperation among the allies on the issue.

James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, will represent the United States. Japan is sending Hitoshi Tanaka, director general of Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bureau, while South Korea's deputy minister for foreign affairs, Lee Tae-sik will represent his country in this meeting of the Trilateral Coordination and Oversight Group.

"We're going to continue to apply pressure" on North Korea to prevent it from reviving its nuclear weapons program, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a briefing in Washington.

"We'll look for a peaceful and diplomatic solution, but there should be no doubt North Koreans are isolating themselves, and they are already paying the price," he added.

North Korea launched its nuclear weapons program several years ago but later agreed to freeze it after an understanding with the United States and South Korea.

But last month, the North Korean government caused an international uproar by removing U.N.-installed monitoring devices from its nuclear facilities. Later, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which supervises the North Korean program on behalf of the United Nations, reported that Pyongyang also had removed some of the 4,000 nuclear fuel rods from an IAEA-monitored storage facility to one of its reactors. The IAEA also reported that North Korea had recently taken steps that indicate it was planning to relaunch its nuclear weapons program.

Last July, Secretary of State Colin Powell visited North Korea for talks on the nuclear issue. Kelly followed him in September.

"But despite these direct talks … the North Koreans have subsequently taken steps that violate their commitments under various international agreements" to refrain from making nuclear weapons, Boucher said.

Boucher said both Japan and South Korea approved of the U.S. policy of bringing pressure on North Korea to prevent it from making weapons.

However, he said, there are no proposals to impose economic sanctions on North Korea and the United States, which is the largest donor of food to the north, will continue the food program. But Boucher said the United States had reservations about how the food was distributed and had sought guarantees to ensure it was actually distributed among those who needed it.

The United States, however, has stopped oil shipment to North Korea because it says Pyongyang had "nullified" an agreed framework that allowed the shipments.

Boucher rejected the allegation that stopping oil supplies forced North Korea to restart the nuclear program. He said North Korea restarted its nuclear program long before the oil supplies were stopped.

"Besides, the prospect of electricity from … restarting this reactor is a very, very small percentage. I think it's 2 or 3 percent of potential electricity. This is not a viable source of power for the North," he added.

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