- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

SINGAPORE | Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday urged North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun to quickly accept a U.S. plan for verifying Pyongyang’s recent nuclear declaration, saying that during their talks “the spirit was good” and there “wasn’t a standoff.”

The encounter between the two top diplomats, during a meeting of foreign ministers from six countries negotiating the dismantling of the North’s nuclear programs, was the highest-level U.S.-North Korean contact in four years.

“It’s important that we get a response” to the U.S. draft of a so-called verification protocol, which is meant to provide the basis for determining if the North Koreans cheated in their nuclear declaration, Miss Rice said.

“The spirit was good because people believe we’ve made progress, but there was also a sense of urgency about moving on,” Miss Rice told reporters traveling with her to Singapore for the annual meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The North Korea ministerial session was held on the sidelines of the summit and was the first at such a high level. Previously, six-party talks have taken place at a senior working level.

“We can’t afford to have another hiatus of several months,” Miss Rice said in an apparent reference to North Korea’s history of missing every deadline set by the six parties so far. Its nuclear declaration, which focused on its plutonium-related activities, was nearly six months past due.

Even though the secretary talked about “urgency” regarding Pyongyang’s signing on to the verification protocol, her chief negotiator, Christopher Hill, said that the document sets no deadline - or any timeline - for completing the verification process.

“The actual verification, which would go alongside phase three, will involve things like sampling. But in order to sample, you need to complete some actions, for example, of disablement,” Mr. Hill said Tuesday.

“So I don’t think you can commit yourself to a time frame for verification,” he told reporters.

After the North submitted its declaration last month, the Bush administration announced plans to remove Pyongyang from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism within 45 days. By then - the week of Aug. 10 - President Bush has said an agreement on the verification process must be reached.

An agreement on a protocol would complete the second phase of a deal reached last year. As part of it, North Korea has shut down and largely disabled its main nuclear reactor.

Mr. Hill said Wednesday that other countries had submitted ideas for the protocol, but it was not clear to what extent they influenced the draft presented to the North Koreans.

Miss Rice said the ministers’ meeting lasted about 80 minutes and she shook Mr. Pak’s hand twice. Her predecessor, Colin L. Powell, had coffee with Mr. Pak’s predecessor, Paek Nam-sun, at the 2004 ASEAN summit in Jakarta.

“There were no surprises, but it wasn’t a standoff, with people just stating their positions,” she said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, host of Wednesday’s meeting, said that it was “quite significant.”

“When we look back, we find that, because of this spirit of mutual benefit and win-win progress, we have been able to overcome quite a few difficulties and we have completed the implementation of the initial phase,” Mr. Yang said.

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