- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 19, 2006

SEOUL — China delivered a “very strong” message from President Hu Jintao to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at a meeting in Pyongyang yesterday, said a U.S. official traveling to Beijing with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Reports from the meeting with Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan encouraged Miss Rice’s delegation, which yesterday won assurances in Seoul that the South Korean government will rethink its policy of engagement with the North and draw up implementation plans for U.N. sanctions against the nuclear-armed state by mid-November.

Miss Rice arrived in Beijing today for the third and most important stop on her tour of East Asian capitals. The trip is aimed at ensuring full enforcement of sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council last weekend in response to a North Korean nuclear test.

In Washington, a U.S. intelligence source told Reuters news agency yesterday the United States is monitoring a North Korean vessel that appears to be suspicious.

“It isn’t clear what it’s carrying. It’s a suspicious vessel,” the source said.

“CBS Evening News,” quoting U.S. intelligence sources, reported that a North Korean ship possibly carrying military equipment banned by U.N. sanctions had left for an unknown destination.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported yesterday that Mr. Kim’s meeting with Mr. Tang was conducted in a “friendly atmosphere” and that the Chinese diplomat had brought an unspecified gift for Mr. Kim.

“Discussed there were the issues of developing the relations of friendship between the two countries and ensuring peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and a series of international issues of mutual concern,” the agency said.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Miss Rice said the Americans think Mr. Tang had more on his mind than mutual friendship.

“I’m pretty convinced that the Chinese will have a very strong message about future tests,” the official said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao, quoted by the Associated Press in Beijing, said he had no details of the message but that the two had discussed the nuclear dispute.

“This is a very significant visit against the backdrop of major changes on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Liu said at a regular press briefing. “We hope China’s diplomatic efforts … will bear fruit.”

The U.S. official said Mr. Tang, a state council member and a former foreign minister, met with Miss Rice and briefly with President Bush at the White House last week but had not mentioned any plans to visit Pyongyang.

The official also said the South Koreans had agreed to “engage in full-scale evaluation of North-South relations” and to “have a full program in place” on how to respond to Pyongyang’s Oct. 9 nuclear test no later than Nov. 14.

That would be one month after the 15-nation Security Council unanimously approved a package of penalties targeting North Korea’s efforts to develop nuclear- and missile-related weapons.

“What I do think is very important is that everyone takes stock of the leverage that we have to get North Korea to return to the six-party talks and to negotiate seriously this dismantlement of its nuclear-weapons programs,” Miss Rice said.

She was referring to two major projects in the North that are subsidized by the South: the Mount Kumgang resort, which is run by an affiliate of the Hyundai Group, and an industrial park in the border city of Kaesong, where 15 South Korean companies use cheap North Korean labor and land to produce goods such as shoes, clothes and cosmetics cases.

“I did not come to South Korea nor will I go anyplace else to try to dictate to governments what they ought to do in response to Resolution 1718,” Miss Rice said during a press conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon.

Mr. Ban, who will take over as U.N. secretary-general when Kofi Annan’s term ends Dec. 31, said Seoul will examine its joint projects with North Korea but he made no promises.

According to the South’s Unification Ministry, more than 1 million tourists have paid about $457 million in admissions and management fees to travel to Kumgang since it opened in 1998.

Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator on North Korea, said Tuesday that Kaesong had some merit as a long-term investment in human capital, but that Kumgang seems to be “designed to give money to the North Korean authorities.”

Miss Rice, who also met with President Roh Moo-hyun, suggested that Seoul participate in ship inspections to ensure that illicit materials and equipment are not brought in and out of North Korea, as required by the U.N. resolution.

She said those activities would be modeled after Washington’s Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which allows for vessel interdictions on the high seas. South Korea is not a participant, although it is considering joining the PSI.

“It isn’t just sort of constant random inspection of ships, and it relies on international law,” Miss Rice said. “It has been in operation in a way that has been effective, but I think has not been confrontational.”

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