- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2003

A Chinese envoy who met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il this week is to arrive in Washington today with a proposal for another trilateral meeting that could be a “bridge” to a larger forum on nuclear issues, U.S. officials said yesterday.

“Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo is arriving Thursday for meetings on Friday,” one administration official said.

A senior official said separately that the Bush administration, which is pushing for multilateral talks including Japan and South Korea, is likely to accept the offer.

The last trilateral talks took place in April in Beijing, at which time Pyongyang declared it already had nuclear weapons, according to sources close to the talks.

“Dai is bringing a letter, possibly from President Hu Jintao, that will lay out a suggestion for another meeting …, and it will probably happen,” the official said.

“The point for the Chinese is to show that they are out there pushing for talks, and we’ll show that we are appreciative of that. They will settle for any form we could live with,” he said.

He also noted that in recent conversations with the administration, Chinese officials have said such a trilateral gathering “could be a bridge” to a truly multinational forum, which would try to resolve the nine-month-old nuclear standoff with North Korea.

A senior State Department official said that “there are some indications the North Koreans are willing to talk.”

The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity shortly after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell told reporters he had been briefed by Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing on Mr. Dai’s meeting in Pyongyang and expected developments “in the very near future.”

All officials insisted that the administration remains committed to multilateral talks with the North, whose nuclear-weapons program is a matter to be dealt with by the international community, rather than the United States alone.

The State Department said this week that North Korean diplomats at the United Nations told a U.S. official on July 8 that Pyongyang had reprocessed its 8,000 spent fuel rods — a major step toward producing plutonium, which is used to make atomic bombs.

Administration officials, however, pointed out that Washington has not been able to verify the validity of that claim.

The administration has said that not every claim Pyongyang makes should be taken at face value, because there are no international inspectors currently in the North.

But the administration has warned that reprocessing the fuel rods would be a very serious development.

Mr. Dai brought Mr. Kim a letter from Mr. Hu, whose contents were not disclosed, but China’s Xinhua news agency reported that the two had “an in-depth discussion of issues of mutual concern.”

The North has demanded direct bilateral talks with Washington over its nuclear programs, but the Bush administration has held out for a larger negotiation involving South Korea, Japan, China and possibly Russia.

Over the weekend, Japanese media quoted U.S. sources as saying that krypton, a byproduct of reprocessing, was detected near the nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

In March, North Korea said it had begun reprocessing the rods after reopening the Yongbyon complex earlier this year. In October, it admitted to having a secret uranium-enrichment program, in violation of a 1994 nuclear deal with the United States, known as the Agreed Framework.

The president of the U.N. Security Council said earlier this week that Pyongyang has complained that the United States is committing hostile acts against it by pushing for a council measure condemning the North’s nuclear program.

The council president for July, Spain’s U.N. ambassador, Inocencio Arias, said North Korean Ambassador Pak Gil-yon delivered the message in a July 2 meeting.

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