- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003

A top Chinese diplomat will brief senior U.S. officials today on his recent trip to North Korea, as the Bush administration edged closer to a new round of multilateral talks on the Korean nuclear crisis.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet with James Kelly, State Department assistant secretary for East Asian affairs and the lead U.S. representative to the first round of six-nation talks on North Korea that broke up with little sign of progress in Beijing in August.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday Mr. Wang could meet with other U.S. officials during his three-day visit, which comes a week after he accompanied Wu Bangguo, chairman of China’s National People’s Congress, on a high-level diplomatic mission to Pyongyang.

China has taken the lead in trying to broker a deal over the North’s illicit nuclear programs, which have raised tensions across the region. China is Pyongyang’s main ally and economic lifeline, but Beijing has grown increasingly concerned about the North’s nuclear programs.

The Bush administration has insisted the programs be terminated, while North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has demanded a security guarantee from Washington and economic aid as his price for cooperation.

Mr. Ereli also confirmed yesterday that the Bush administration is determined to put an end to the $4.6 billion program to build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea to supply the country’s civilian energy needs.

The plants, being built by a consortium run by the United States, South Korea, Japan and the European Union, were part of a 1994 Clinton administration deal to get North Korea to freeze its existing nuclear programs — a deal U.S. officials insist Pyongyang has broken.

The executive board of the consortium met Tuesday in New York and is widely expected to announce a building halt later this month.

“There is no future for the reactor project,” Mr. Ereli said yesterday.

He said the United States might accept a one-year suspension of the project that would require unanimous board consent late next year for new construction — a formulation that would rely on a highly improbable change of heart by the Bush administration if the reactors were to be built.

But South Korea, which has supplied the bulk of the work force and some $850 million in funding already for the projects, has pressed for a softer line, fearful of provoking its neighbor.

“Our government’s position is for suspending the project for one year with the premise of resuming it” if there is progress on the North Korean nuclear issue, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan told reporters in Seoul yesterday.

In the past, North Korea has cited what it said were lengthy delays in the original construction timetable to argue it was no longer bound by its own promise to freeze its nuclear efforts.

After harshly criticizing the U.S. stance in the Beijing talks in August, Pyongyang recently abruptly switched gears and said it was ready “in principle” to engage in a second round of talks.

The six countries in the negotiations are the United States, North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

North Korea was a top subject in the talks yesterday between Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and visiting South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck.

Mr. Armitage and Mr. Lee also were expected to discuss South Korea’s proposed troop contribution to the U.S.-led peacekeeping mission in Iraq.

South Korea, which already has a 700-man force in Iraq, had discussed sending as many as 5,000 combat troops to the country — one of the largest foreign contributions to the Iraq coalition. But domestic opposition to the mission has led the government to try to reduce the number of troops by several thousand.

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