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U.S. Meeting with North Korea on Nuclear Dev. Program - 2003-04-22

Delegations from the United States and North Korea are in Beijing where talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear development program are set to begin on Wednesday. VOA-TV’s Jim Bertel reports officials in Washington, Pyongyang and Beijing are playing down expectations.

The talks are the highest-level contacts between the U.S. and North Korea since the nuclear crisis began in October. But before they even begin, many analysts say they do not expect a diplomatic breakthrough that would end the controversy over North Korea’s nuclear program. Still, there is much to speculate about.

Some analysts believe the key is whether Pyongyang is willing to trade its nuclear arms program for security guarantees. Professor Lee Jung-Hoon of South Korea’s Yonsei University says if Washington insists Pyongyang stop its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees, the process could be lengthy.

"Now the bar has been raised in such a way that the U.S. Government wants a complete eradication, uprooting of the nuclear weapons program. And therefore, probably the negotiations to do so would be very, very difficult and it may be prolonged.”

And not to be ignored; the role of South Korea and Japan. South Korean President Roh moo-Hyun faces domestic criticism for Seoul’s absence from the meetings. He’s countered by saying results are the most important thing.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koisumi said earlier this week, talks would not get far without Japan and South Korea. But a prominent Japanese politician – liberal democrat Katsuei Hirasawa – sees it differently; saying the exclusion of Seoul and Tokyo will give the U.S. more room to negotiate.

“It’s a good thing neither Japan nor South Korea are at the negotiating table. The U.S. can now take a hard-line in dealing with Pyongyang, which I believe is the only way to get through this impasse.”

In Pyongyang, the official media continued to accuse the United States of planning an attack. The Bush administration says it has no plans to invade; believing a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue is possible.