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US Reviews Talks on N. Korea's Nuclear Program - 2003-04-26

Bush administration officials are assessing the results of the three-way talks with China and North Korea on the North Korean nuclear program which ended Friday in Beijing. The talks ended with no report of progress or announcement of a further meeting, though the State Department said the exchange of views was "useful."

Officials here say the United States went into the talks with modest expectations and that the forum, provided by China, at least allowed the participants to directly state their positions on the nuclear crisis and hear what the others had to say.

Any decisions on next steps will not come until the chief U.S. delegate in Beijing, James Kelly, returns to Washington Sunday after consultations in South Korea and Japan, and briefs Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top Bush administration figures.

Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. side in Beijing made clear that Pyongyang can expect no benefits from regional powers unless it irrevocably ends its weapons program, and that any further talks on the subject must include South Korea and Japan.

"The two major points that we raised, indeed the ones that we emphasized again and again, were first of all that North Korea needs to get rid of these nuclear weapons programs for it to expect any progress in relationships not only with us but with others in the world. "And then second of all, that Japan and South Korea belonged in these talks," said Mr. Boucher. "They had something to contribute both in terms of their interests and their abilities and therefore we felt it was important for North Korea to accept that and recognize that."

North Korea's official news agency said North Korean delegates in Beijing presented what was termed a new and bold proposal to clear away the nuclear issue, which it insisted was a bilateral matter between Pyongyang and Washington.

Spokesman Boucher said whether the proposal was new or bold was a matter for further analysis by U.S. experts. But he reiterated that the United States will not give North Korea any "quid pro quo" for getting rid of a nuclear program he said "never should have existed in the first place."

Elaborating on the point, an official here said the United States would not engage in what he termed "horse-trading" over the North Korean program.

However he said if there was a verifiable end to the weapons effort, the administration would be prepared to revive an initiative for aid and upgraded political relations with Pyongyang contemplated last year before the latest crisis erupted.

Earlier, an official familiar with top-level administration thinking on the issue, told VOA the United States was not disappointed with the Beijing talks, nor was it surprised by North Korea's admission there that it possessed nuclear weapons.

The official contested news accounts that North Korea had made a specific threat at the talks to test a nuclear device. He also heaped praise on China for its role in the discussions, welcoming in particular its assertion there that Pyongyang is in violation of the 1992 accord for the de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula.