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Heading to Asia, Powell Says US Firm on North Korea


Secretary of State Colin Powell travels to Asia next week to try to restart talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing, one of the stops on Secretary Powell's trip.

In an interview before his trip to China, Japan, and South Korea, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine the United States will not change its position on North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

He said the United States continues to demand complete and verifiable evidence that the North is no longer pursuing nuclear weapons. He said Washington will not abandon its approach, which is engaging North Korea's neighbors in the process rather than negotiating one-to-one with the North Koreans.

Mr. Powell said the Bush administration is using diplomatic pressure and encouragement, but cautions the process will take time.

China has hosted three inconclusive rounds of talks that have also included Japan, Russia, and South Korea. A fourth round was supposed to take place in September, but North Korea refused to attend, citing revelations that South Korean scientists had secretly conducted nuclear experiments.

Like Washington, Beijing is eager to resume talks. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue on Thursday said Monday's meetings with Mr. Powell will focus on North Korea, with Taiwan also high on the agenda.

Ms. Zhang says Chinese leaders want to discuss the Taiwan issue because China sees it as the most important and most sensitive issue in Sino-American relations.

China often criticizes the United States for selling weapons to Taiwan, a practice that Beijing says sends "wrong signals," and suggests that Washington supports Taiwanese independence.

In his magazine interview, Secretary Powell said the Bush administration has made it very clear that the United States does not support Taiwan's independence. Mr. Powell said the issue of Taiwanese independence has the potential to cause a crisis in East Asian.

China claims Taiwan as part of its territory, despite the fact that it has been self-governed since 1949, when Nationalists fled there following their defeat by Communist forces on the mainland. China has threatened to invade Taiwan if it moves toward declaring formal independence or is slow to pursue reunification with the mainland.

President Bush has warned both sides not to take any unilateral steps to change the island's current status.

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