Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday he has discussed the deadlock over North Korea's nuclear program with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, and expects diplomatic movement on the issue soon. China sent a senior envoy to Pyongyang this week.
Mr. Powell is making clear that the Bush administration is still aiming at a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis, despite North Korea's claim last week that it has reprocessed enough spent reactor fuel to build several more nuclear weapons.
China has taken a lead role in diplomacy with Pyongyang, sending a senior envoy to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il this week and reportedly proposing a new formula for negotiations to resolve the issue.
The Chinese, who hosted talks with the United States and North Korea in May, are understood to have proposed another, expanded multilateral meeting that would also provide for direct U.S.-North Korean discussions on the sidelines.
While the Bush administration has in recent days given a cool response to such a negotiating formula, Mr. Powell sounded optimistic about diplomatic prospects as he emerged after a meeting here with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
"I told the foreign minister that the United States was still hopeful of a diplomatic solution, that we are in touch with our friends in the region," he said. "We have taken note of the recent visit of the Chinese vice foreign minister [Dai Bingguo], to Pyongyang, which was reported in the press this morning, and I had a long conversation with the Chinese foreign minister last evening, where he gave me an update of those conversations. So the diplomatic track is alive and well, and I expect to see some developments along that track in the very near future."
Neither Mr. Powell nor his spokesman would elaborate on what diplomatic moves might be expected.
News reports say the Chinese proposal would accommodate the U-S insistence that South Korea and Japan be brought into discussions while also potentially satisfying North Korea's demand for direct talks with the United States.
The Bush administration stand has been that North Korea's nuclear program is a regional concern that must be addressed multi-laterally by regional powers.
It has said Pyongyang should not be given any kind of reward for violating nuclear commitments since last year, but has also held out the prospect of aid and other benefits if North Korea verifiably dismantled its nuclear program.
In his talk with reporters, Mr. Powell also confirmed news reports the administration is "examining" the idea of admitting some North Korean refugees into the United States but said there was no formal proposal on his, or the president's desk.
He described the refugee issue as an "item of continuing study" in Washington.