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US Secretary of State Holds Talks with Japanese Officials in Tokyo - 2003-02-22

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Japan Saturday, the start of a four-day trip to Asia to build support for a U.N. Security Council Resolution condemning North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and to repair strained relations with South Korea. He will attend the inauguration of South Korea's new president.

Building a diplomatic consensus on North Korea's nuclear weapons development program will top U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's agenda during his brief visits to Japan, China and South Korea.

He wants to secure support from them for a tough U.N. resolution condemning the North's moves toward nuclear weapons development.

The issue will be debated by the U.N. Security Council in the near future, and a resolution could lead to actions that include economic sanctions.

Pyongyang has said it would consider sanctions as tantamount to a declaration of war.

So far, the United States has not had much success in persuading Northeast Asia's leading regional powers to pressure the North to halt its nuclear program.

Beijing, one of Pyongyang's few allies, seems the most reluctant of all to intervene.

Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo want Washington and Pyongyang to hold bilateral talks. But the Bush administration prefers to sit down with the North in a multilateral setting, an idea the North rejects.

The United States also says it will not discuss security issues with the North, until it renounces its nuclear program.

Despite the tensions, Mr. Powell is expected to announce fresh food aid for the impoverished communist state. En route to Japan, he told reporters that the United States does not use food aid as a political tool.

Improving relations with South Korea will be another priority for Mr. Powell. He will attend the inauguration of Tuesday of South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, and is expected to invite him to the United States to meet with President Bush.

Mr. Roh was elected on a platform of greater independence from Washington.

Many South Koreans believe the United States has too much influence over their country's affairs, and resent Washington's hardline approach to the North, which they see as creating tensions on the Korean peninsula.

They also question the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops in the country, which are there to help deter an attack by the North.

An accident last June, in which two Korean girls were killed by a U.S. military vehicle, sparked widespread anti-American protests, and calls for American soldiers to leave the country.