Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said Thursday they remain committed to six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, even though Pyongyang's refusal to attend scuttled hopes for a new round of negotiations in September.
All the parties including North Korea had agreed in principle in June to hold another round in Beijing by the end of September. But neither Mr. Powell nor his Chinese counterpart seemed overly-discouraged by the failure to meet the timetable, and they both reaffirmed the six-party negotiating framework as the way to move forward.
At a brief news conference with his Chinese counterpart after an hour-long State Department meeting, Secretary Powell said it was premature to discuss the possibility of referring the issue to the U.N. Security Council if efforts to bring Pyongyang back to the negotiating table fail.
"I think that the six-party framework is what we should be concentrating on, and not any other means of dealing with this right now," he said. "And I'm quite confident that the six-party framework is a framework in which this matter will be dealt with for seeable future because it serves the interests of all parties. All of North Korea's neighbors are involved in this. They have as much of an interest, and an even greater equity, in seeing a de-nuclearized peninsula than does the United States."
Mr. Powell reiterated that the United States has no hostile intent toward North Korea, and that the United States and its partners in the talks have put forward a fair and equitable proposal, offering Pyongyang security assurances and aid in return for disarmament.
He said he hopes Pyongyang is studying the U.S. position very carefully and will show more flexibility with respect to setting a date for further talks.
Foreign Minister Li, for his part, said all the parties including North Korea consider the six-party talks the only feasible and correct option. Heard through an interpreter, he advised patience and creativity in moving the process forward.
"Now, concerning the issue of the next round of six-party talks, there have emerged some new complicating factors and new difficulties," said Mr. Li. "Actually, this has required all of us to continue to adopt a more patient and creative approach in finding a solution through peaceful means to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula through the framework of the six-party talks, because nothing is more precious than peace."
North Korea's Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon said in a U.N. speech Monday that Pyongyang will not return to the talks until the Bush administration ends what he termed its hostile policy toward the communist state, and South Korea publishes full details of recently-disclosed uranium-enrichment experiments.
Policy analysts suggest that Pyongyang may delay the renewal of talks at least until November, awaiting the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election.