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Powell:  'Some Progress' Being Made with North Korea - 2003-01-22

Secretary of State Colin Powell is reporting progress in diplomatic contacts aimed at defusing the crisis over North Korea's recent nuclear moves. U.S. officials say the issue is likely to be taken up soon by the U.N. Security Council, but that this does not necessarily mean the imposition of new sanctions against Pyongyang.

Mr. Powell is not predicting an early breakthrough. But in interview remarks released here Wednesday he said he is "comfortable" that "some progress" is being made in diplomatic contacts with Pyongyang being carried out by various intermediaries.

The secretary gave no details of the substance of the contacts.

He did say however that the United States has reaffirmed to North Korea President Bush's willingness to have dialogue on nuclear issues, and that U.S. officials are trying to determine whether it is best to have those discussions within a multi-lateral framework or bilaterally.

Mr. Powell said the contacts were at a "very delicate time" and were being handled "quietly and with some discretion." He also said he is pleased with the "solidarity" shown by other concerned parties, including South Korea, Russia, China who have had direct contacts with the North Koreans.

The United States is seeking to build international pressure on Pyongyang to roll back recent nuclear steps including its renunciation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to refer Pyongyang's withdrawal from the treaty to the U.N. Security Council in a matter of day - action endorsed Wednesday by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "We think it is important first, for the Security Council to deal with this because it relates to international peace and security, and second of all, for the international community to use this way to continue to make clear that this is a serious matter of concern to all of us," Mr. Boucher said. A senior official here said a Security Council debate would not necessarily lead to new sanctions against North Korea. Pyongyang has said that any U.N. move to impose sanctions would exacerbate the situation and be tantamount to an act of war.

The United States has said an initial dialogue it has with North Korea would be limited to discussion of how Pyongyang can return to compliance with international nuclear agreements.

But in the interview, Mr. Powell reiterated the Bush administration's willingness to take a "bold approach" for a new relationship with North Korea - provided it was willing to act on matters of U.S. concern including the nuclear issues, weapons proliferation, and the forward-basing of its conventional forces near the border with South Korea.