- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

BEIJING (Agence France-Presse) — Senior U.S. and South Korean officials said yesterday the diplomatic drive to bring North Korea to the negotiating table had stalled after a recent flurry of activity.

John Bolton, U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said there was little reason for optimism after discussions with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui.

“I don’t know if I’ve learnt anything that affects my optimism scale one way or the other,” he said after day-long discussions on the 9-month-old standoff.

He said China, North Korea’s closest ally, had done all it could to facilitate a resumption of talks.

“I’m not sure that there’s anything else specifically that we could think of that the government here could do that they haven’t already tried,” said Mr. Bolton, in Beijing en route to South Korea and Japan.

Asked if progress had been made on setting a date for a resumption of talks following a first round of trilateral discussions in April, he replied: “I don’t think there is anything on a date one way or the other that I could really indicate.”

In Seoul, South Korea’s foreign minister also poured cold water on any early resumption of dialogue after a recent spate of shuttle diplomacy that has seen a Chinese envoy go to Pyongyang and then Washington.

“At the beginning I believed it was possible to resume the talks at an early date,” Yoon Young-kwan told South Korean journalists.

“But as time passes, the North Korean-Chinese consultation is slowing down, rather than speeding up. We need to wait.”

China hosted trilateral talks with the United States and North Korea in Beijing in April, but they were widely seen as a failure.

Recently, Beijing intensified efforts to broker a second round amid claims from Pyongyang that it has reprocessed enough spent fuel rods for several atomic devices.

Only last week, South Korean National Security Adviser Ra Jong-yil said he believed that talks could take place in August, while the Russian Foreign Ministry said it would likely be in early September.

Washington has made clear that South Korea and Japan must be involved, and Mr. Bolton yesterday insisted that Moscow should also be included, even suggesting the talks be thrown open to a wider audience.

Said a senior Bush administration official in Washington: “The problem all along is that North Korea has not accepted expanded party talks.”

David R. Sands contributed to this report in Washington.

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