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Australian Foreign Minister Travels to Pyongyang to Help Settle Nuclear Dispute - 2004-08-17


Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer heads to North Korea, hoping to add a fresh voice in the international effort to end Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. Mr. Downer says his country would increase aid to Pyongyang once the nuclear dispute is ended.

Alexander Downer says he will try to persuade Pyongyang to continue participating in multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons programs.

The Australian foreign minister thinks his country can help smooth the way toward resolving the issue.

"Now I think is a timely opportunity for a country like Australia to play a role and I hope that our intervention would ensure that the next round of six-party talks can be more fruitful," he said.

Australia is among a handful of nations that have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Canberra is worried of North Korea's nuclear capability, including the possible of a missile attack on Australia.

Mr. Downer, speaking in Beijing Tuesday en route to Pyongyang, said Australia is willing to increase aid and trade to North Korea if the nuclear question is resolved.

"It is a point that I'd make to the North Koreans that there are great opportunities for the North Korean people if they abandon their nuclear programs," said Mr. Downer.

Mr. Downer's visit comes a day after Pyongyang said it would not participate in a planned working-level meeting in Beijing this week because of what it calls U.S. hostility. Mr. Downer says Chinese officials told him the meeting had never been formally scheduled.

China, the United States, Russia, South Korea and Japan have held three rounds of negotiations with Pyongyang on the nuclear issue.

In the last round of talks in Beijing in June, the United States said its negotiating partners would provide economic aid to the North, if Pyongyang verifiably and irrevocably dismantles its nuclear weapons programs. The reclusive Stalinist state rejected the offer.

The dispute flared in October 2002, when Washington said Pyongyang operated a secret enriched uranium-based program. North Korea only Admits having a plutonium-based program.

On Monday, Ri Gun, the chief negotiator for North Korea on the nuclear dispute met with Chinese diplomats in Beijing. Details of the meeting were not made public.

While in Beijing, Mr. Downer met with Chinese officials to discuss a possible free trade agreement. Australian manufacturers want to expand into the big Chinese market, while China is interested in Australian energy resources.

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