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Powell: N. Korea Made Offer to End Nuclear Program - 2003-04-29

Secretary of State Colin Powell says North Korea, in three-way talks also involving China last week, offered to scrap nuclear weapons and missile programs, but only in return for considerable U.S. political and economic concessions. Mr. Powell said the United States is examining the proposal with allies and other interested countries.

The United States has made clear it is not prepared to offer North Korea any quid pro quo for returning to adherence to agreements it has broken by reviving its nuclear program. However, officials here are not dismissing the proposal out-of-hand, and are examining it in consultation with South Korea, Japan and other interested parties, including China and Russia.

North Korea's official news agency said, after the Beijing talks ended last week that North Korea had presented what was described as a "new and open-minded" solution to the nuclear issue, which it described as a bilateral matter between Pyongyang and Washington.

In the first high-level U.S. comment on the issue, Secretary of State Powell told reporters after meeting Jordan's foreign minister Marwan Muasher Monday that North Korea had admitted certain weapons programs at the Beijing talks, and said they were, in effect, up for negotiation.

"They did put forward a plan, a plan that would ultimately deal with their nuclear capability and their missile activities, but they of course expect something considerable in return. And so, we are studying that plan, or we are examining it with our friends and allies," said Mr. Powell. "We're staying in the closest touch with the South Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese, Russians, Australians and others. And so, I think it was useful to get it all out on the table, and see where we go from here."

Mr. Powell gave no details on what North Korea was asking in return for restraint on its weapons programs, but a senior official said it was basically a composite list of concessions North Korea has sought in the past, including security guarantees, political normalization and aid.

State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said that, while the North Korean demands were being looked at, the United States had not changed its position against giving in to nuclear blackmail. "We've made clear, we're not going to pay for elimination of the nuclear weapons programs that never should have begun in the first place. That remains our policy, a very clear policy that we've taken. So, this kind of, you know, 'you do this, you do that, we'll do that, and maybe we'll do something else' proposal has its limitations," he said. "But, obviously, we're going to look at the whole thing; we're going to look at everything that they've said during the course of these discussions, and see what we think we ought to do next."

Mr. Boucher said the North Koreans were told at the three ways talks that there needs to be a "verifiable and irreversible termination" of their nuclear weapons program. But he said once that occurs, the administration would be willing to return to the so-called "bold approach" of increased aid and recognition that it contemplated before the nuclear crisis erupted last year. He said the United States also pressed for the early inclusion of other concerned parties in the talks, should they continue, especially South Korea and Japan.

U.S. officials said earlier that North Korea admitted in Beijing that it possessed nuclear weapons.

But in his comments here, Secretary Powell said the North Koreans had made no specific threat to test a nuclear device, though he said they spoke of being able to display that capability in one way or another.

Mr. Powell also said there was no conclusive evidence that North Korea has begun reprocessing spent reactor fuel at its reopened reactor complex at Yongbyon.