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Powell Describes North Korean Nuclear Talks as 'Promising' - 2004-02-26


U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is upbeat about six-way talks now under way over North Korea's nuclear program. His comments contrasted with a North Korean statement in Beijing hours earlier that blamed the United States for lack of progress in the talks.

In testimony to the Senate Budget Committee Thursday, Secretary Powell said U.S. diplomats are hard at work in Beijing, in negotiations with their counterparts from China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and Russia.

"The results of the first two days meetings are positive," he said. "There's a positive attitude. There's a promising attitude that's emerging from those meetings and hopefully we can move in the right direction here."

Just hours earlier, a brief statement from the North Korean embassy in Beijing repeated long-standing comments that Pyongyang would give up its nuclear programs if the United States halts what it called a "hostile policy" toward North Korea.

David Albright of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security says the latest developments are nothing new. He says he sees the possibility of some progress at the talks.

"It's rhetoric on the part of North Korea," he said. "Both sides are blocking progress," he said. "I can't blame, both sides want certain things and they are at a loggerheads. One thing that seems to be happening in this meeting, though, is they're starting to float ideas, either directly or indirectly, on what's the solution. And so, in that sense, they're starting to test each other. And I think it's an attempt to find a compromise, or at least start a negotiation process that can be productive."

Charles Pritchard, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, recently served as one of the top U.S. negotiators with North Korea. Mr. Pritchard said he thinks Pyongyang is taking these meetings with the head of the American delegation, James Kelly, seriously.

"They have shown up with their top American negotiator, the person who really should have been involved all along, Vice Minister Kim Gye-Gwan," he said. "He and Jim Kelly apparently have met for an hour or so yesterday. Whether or not they had good talks or not is almost secondary to the fact that they met for more than just a few minutes."

Mr. Pritchard noted that it is also significant that Pyongyang's criticism of the United States came from the embassy and not from Vice Minister Kim. He says the North Korea comments were directed toward China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

"By comparison, if you stood back and you're one of the other four participants, you would look at a positive performance by Kim Gye Gwan and you would hear a negative performance [of the United States], as described by the North Korean ambassador," he said. "Tactically, and in terms of negotiating, a good ploy on their part."

Mr. Pritchard says he does not see signs of any split among the five parties in their approach toward North Korea, yet. As evidence of this, he pointed to the lack of strong U.S. objection to a Chinese, South Korean and Russian proposal to provide North Korea with energy aid in return for a nuclear freeze.

Meanwhile, Sook-Jong Lee, another visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, said China and South Korea, especially, are concerned that lack of progress on resolving the issue would mean the talks get dragged out even longer, likely until after the U.S. presidential elections.

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