Allies urge U.S. flexibility to get N. Korea to negotiate

China, S. Korea advise Powell on arms impasse

October 27, 2004|By William Neikirk | William Neikirk,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

SEOUL, South Korea - Secretary of State Colin L. Powell wound up his whirlwind Asian tour yesterday after hearing key allies call on the United States to sweeten its plan to lure North Korea back to six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program.

While he found agreement in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul over the need to resume talks with North Korea as soon as possible, Powell encountered resistance about the way Washington is trying to get Pyongyang to rejoin the negotiations.

On Powell's last stop, in Seoul, Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon said the United States, South Korea and other allies involved in the talks "must come up with more creative and realistic proposals so that North Korea can come back to the negotiating table as soon as possible."

That paralleled China's position, expressed Monday. Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told Powell in effect that the United States is being too hard in dealing with North Korea, an indication that the Chinese favor an upfront U.S. pledge of assistance to Pyongyang.

"We wish the U.S. side would go further to adopt a flexible and practical attitude," Li said, according to the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua. "China will make efforts to push for a new round of six-party talks at the earliest date in a bid to carry on the hard-earned peaceful process."

Li said the North Korean nuclear issue "is complicated and demands patience," implying that the United States should rethink its bargaining stance. But even before he came to Asia, Powell said the United States would consider assistance only if Pyongyang agreed to come to the table, and not before. And he gave no indication during his trip that he is prepared to soften that position.

The U.S. stance is that all the issues related to North Korea's nuclear program should be incorporated in the six-party negotiations and not be dealt with in separate negotiations with the United States. If assistance is to be extended, Powell said, it has to be worked out with the other partners: Japan, China, Russia and South Korea.

The secretary repeated that position during a news conference with South Korea's Ban, saying the United States "has a good proposal on the table. The way to move forward is to have another round [of talks], not have a negotiation with ourselves at a press conference."

Nonetheless, the sentiment for the United States to alter its negotiating position emerged during Powell's tour.

The Pyongyang government is boycotting the talks, and almost daily unleashes verbal attacks on the United States for what it terms "hostile acts" against North Korea. Among other things, it noted the staging of U.S.-sponsored naval exercises in the region.

The exercises, part of a multinational nuclear proliferation security exercise sponsored by the United States, began off the coast of Japan this week, prompting protests from Pyongyang. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said, "These moves only make the prospect of the negotiations dimmer as the days go by."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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