Secretary of State Colin Powell flies to Asia later this week for a three-nation trip ending with a stop in Seoul for the February 25 inauguration of incoming South Korean president Roh Moo-Hyun. His talks in Japan, China and South Korea will be dominated by the North Korean nuclear issue.
Mr. Powell will largely put the Iraq disarmament issue aside for an Asia trip, spanning five days, aimed at a more unified stance among key U.S. allies and China on North Korea's recent moves to revive its nuclear program.
The Secretary leaves Washington Friday and plans stops in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul before returning to Washington after South Korea's presidential inauguration next Tuesday.
North Korea has been demanding a non-aggression treaty with the United States as a price for rolling back its recent nuclear actions.
But the Bush administration has insisted Pyongyang should get no rewards for violating its international nuclear obligations.
It has also sought a multilateral approach to the crisis involving regional powers Russia and China as well as U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea, arguing that North Korea's nuclear ambitions are a matter of regional concern.
There have been differences among the parties, with China in particular pressing for bilateral negotiations between the United States and Pyongyang. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher insists there is broad agreement on the key elements of the problem.
"We all agree that North Korea's previous commitments to the de-nuclearization of the peninsula need to be upheld. We all agree on the dangers posed by nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea on this peninsula. We all agree in pursuing a peaceful approach. We all agree that North Korea cannot expect benefits from the world, that its future benefits in the world hinge on North Korea abandoning these nuclearization programs. So, there's a great deal in common, and we work together on the tactics of that at any moment," Mr. Boucher said.
Mr. Powell can be expected to urge China, North Korea's biggest trading partner and aid provider, to use more of its leverage to influence Pyongyang's behavior.
A senior official who spoke to reporters here credited China with making positive statements on the issue. But he said Beijing needs to make clear to the North Koreans "at a high level" that they are endangering their relations with the rest of the world by seeking nuclear weapons.
Mr. Powell is likely to have bilateral meetings on North Korea, and Iraq, with other visiting leaders on the sidelines of the inaugural ceremonies in Seoul. He will also discuss plans for an early Washington trip by Mr. Roh, one of the few South Korean politicians who has never visited the United States.