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Powell Stresses Need for Multilateral Forum to Address North Korea Nuclear Dispute - 2003-02-23

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has reaffirmed Washington's willingness to talk with North Korea about its weapons program, but only as part of a larger, multilateral dialogue. Mr. Powell, on a four-day Asian tour, also said a solution must be found for the problem of extreme poverty in the North Korea.

The Secretary of State met with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi late Saturday and underscored the need for the United States, Japan and South Korea to work together to reach a peaceful solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Mr. Powell told reporters Sunday that the Bush Administration believes the issue is of concern to all nations, and not, as Pyongyang insists, a matter to be resolved through bilateral negotiations with Washington . "The United States and Japan agreed that these concerns and conversations must be addressed in a multilateral context. For the simple reason that it is not just a U.S.-North Korea problem, it is a problem that effects the entire region and a problem that effects the entire world," he said.

The dispute began four months ago after Washington accused North Korea of operating a secret nuclear weapons program. A Washington-led consortium halted fuel oil shipments to the North. The North in turn expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, and withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Mr. Powell said the United States and other nations want to help the North Korean people, and that America will soon announce new food aid to the impoverished country. But he said other aid and improved international relations are unlikely unless the North stops developing nuclear weapons. "Unless North Korean ends its program, it cannot expect the benefits of relationships with the outside world. The outside world stands ready willing and able to assist North Korea with the problems it faces internally, economic problems and not having the ability to feed its people," he said. "We stand ready to help. But help can only come when North Korea has abandoned its programs to achieve nuclear weapons capabilities."

President Bush has sharply criticized Pyongyang's inability to feed its people, even as it spends huge sums on missiles and nuclear technology. As Mr. Powell said Sunday: "You can't eat plutonium."

The secretary will also discuss North Korean's nuclear ambitions with the leaders of China and South Korea over the next few days. The Bush administration would like both nations to adopt its multilateral approach toward resolving the issue. Currently, Beijing and Seoul say Washington and Pyongyang should settle the matter through one-on-one negotiations.