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U.S., North Korea plan talks in bid to end nuclear standoff

©Associated Press
April 17, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea -- The United States and North Korea will try to resolve their six-month standoff over Pyongyang's suspected nuclear weapons program in talks arranged by China, the North's closest ally, officials said Wednesday.

The Beijing talks could happen as early as next week, U.S. and South Korean officials said.

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell warned an early breakthrough was not in the offing. "We believe this is the beginning of a long, intense process of discussion," Powell said in an interview with Associated Press Television News.

"We will lay out clearly our concerns about their nuclear weapons development programs and other weapons of mass destruction, of their proliferation activities, missile programs," he said.

China will participate in the talks, the first between Washington and Pyongyang since U.S. officials said in October that North Korea had admitted running a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Washington has called for multilateral talks to resolve the issue, and renewed its promise to try to include other nations, especially South Korea and Japan.

Pyongyang earlier insisted on negotiations only with Washington, but agreed last week to allow China at the table.

There is a sense of urgency about the situation because North Korea, already believed to have one or two nuclear weapons, could extract enough plutonium for several more if it begins reprocessing existing stocks of spent nuclear fuel.

North Korea has accused the United States of planning to invade when the war in Iraq is over. President Bush -- who once described North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq -- has said he wants to resolve the nuclear crisis peacefully, but he has not ruled out a military solution.

In Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan welcomed the talks but demanded that future meetings include Japan, Russia and South Korea. Seoul and Tokyo are considered key donors for an aid package that likely would be part of any deal with the North.

"It is of paramount importance that talks begin to lay the foundation for a peaceful solution to this problem," Yoon said. "But we won't share the burden resulting from any talks that we do not participate in."

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