Thu, Mar 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Powell gives thumbs up to North Korea talks

AP , WASHINGTON

US Secretary of State Colin Powell offered an upbeat assessment of the latest nuclear-weapons talks with North Korea and said cooperation at the negotiating table with South Korea and other allies was unprecedented.

North Korea can expect good relations with its neighbors once it ends its nuclear-weapons program and embraces a policy of political and economic openness now sweeping the area, Powell said on Tuesday in a speech to an Asian studies group.

Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said North Korea had agreed to consider a US demand that it dismantle its programs based both on plutonium and uranium enrichment.

"The North Koreans came to the table denying a uranium enrichment program," Kelly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. But, in a reversal, he said "it was clear by the conclusion of the talks that this is now very much on the table."

The American diplomat cited the development as evidence of "a very different, promising atmosphere" in the latest round of negotiations.

While the Bush administration has ruled out concessions to North Korea as a payoff to end its nuclear weapons program, Powell said without elaboration: "We want to help the people of North Korea, who are in such difficulty now."

Referring to the US partners in the six-nation talks that recessed last week in Beijing, Powell said the US, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia "have made it clear to North Korea that a better future awaits them, that none of these nations is intent on attacking them or destroying them."

There was a good deal of progress at the latest round, Powell said. "We haven't gotten where we need to be," he said, "but what I am especially pleased about is that we have institutionalized now the process with working groups and we're already getting ready for the next meeting."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the six-party talks "produced a noticeable step forward" toward a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula. He said the four-day meeting "opened a pathway to full-fledged and continuing negotiations aimed at a comprehensive approach to durable peace in the region."

Only Monday in Seoul, however, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun spoke of creating a foreign policy more independent of the US. "Step by step, we should strengthen our independence and build our strength as an independent nation," he said in a nationally televised speech.

On Tuesday, the new South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, met with US President George W. Bush and Powell at the White House. US officials provided no account of the meeting.

Powell also told the Asian studies group that the US strongly opposed any use by China of force or threats across the Taiwan Strait, meaning against Taiwan.

The secretary said, however, that the US did not support independence for Taiwan.

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