Powell, Japan leader discuss N. Korea crisis

U.S. secretary pledges to listen

Iraq on agenda

February 23, 2003|By Sonni Efron and Mark Magnier | Sonni Efron and Mark Magnier,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

TOKYO - U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi yesterday, and the two agreed to try to find a peaceful way to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis.

As he began a five-day Asia tour that is also taking him to China and South Korea, Powell said he was not putting a plan on the table but would listen to ideas from America's friends.

"He's certainly not going to close any deal, that's for sure," said Victor Cha, a Korea expert at Georgetown University in Washington. While North Korea is Tokyo's key concern of the moment, Washington's top priority is its showdown with Iraq, and that matter was also on yesterday's agenda.

"We both shared concerns about the nuclear program in North Korea," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. He added that the situation in Iraq also was discussed, and both sides "understand the threat posed by Saddam Hussein."

Polls find nearly 70 percent of Japanese oppose military action against Iraq. But support for U.S. policy on Iraq is seen as a condition for ensuring American protection from North Korea.

The stumbling block is finding a formula for talks that will work for North Korea as well as the United States.

The North Korean government, which asserts its right to produce nuclear weapons to defend itself against what it sees as a likely American attack, wants to talk only to the United States, which it views as the puppet master of Asia. Most other Asian nations want the United States to hold such talks before North Korea's march toward nuclear weapons goes further.

But the United States wants other countries to be part of any negotiations - because North Korea's neighbors will be most affected if the Communist regime develops a nuclear arsenal, and because the administration believes that only a united, international campaign has the hope of keeping nuclear weapons off the Korean Peninsula.

In the fall, North Korea acknowledged that it was enriching uranium that could be used for nuclear weapons, despite a nuclear freeze spelled out in a 1994 accord with the United States known as the Agreed Framework.

Powell conceded that North Korea could cheat on a deal with the world community just as easily as it could cheat on an agreement with the United States.

"But I think that if more nations in the region and the international community were involved, then the obligations on North Korea would be stronger, and the consequences of failure to perform or abide by would be greater," he said.

The United States has floated what it calls a "five plus five" proposal for multilateral talks among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Australia, Japan, South Korea, the European Union and North Korea.

Sonni Efron and Mark Magnier write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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