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Chinese Foreign Minister Meets with North Korean Leader - 2004-03-24

China's Foreign Minister met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il Wednesday, in hopes of pushing diplomacy forward on the issue of the North's nuclear weapons programs. North Korea's official KCNA news agency says talks between Kim Jong-il and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing took place in a "warm atmosphere" on Wednesday.

But the North Korean report did not provide any details on Mr. Li's efforts to arrange another round of six-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue.

Beijing has hosted two previous rounds of talks on the issue involving Russia, China, the two Koreas, Japan and the United States.

The United States and its partners are trying to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs, which Pyongyang says it needs as a "deterrent" to hostile U.S. policy.

Ambassador Charles Pritchard, a former U.S. special envoy to North Korea, said in Hong Kong Wednesday he doubts North Korea will take part in another round of six-party talks before the U.S. presidential election in November.

"Is the U.S. administration going to offer a deal, prior to an election? I doubt it seriously," says Mr. Pritchard. "So, unless it was so generous, that the North Koreans thought they were never going to get a better deal from anybody else, they wouldn't accept it, no matter what it is."

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he believes North Korea will not turn its back on negotiations.

Pyongyang pulled out of inter-Korean economic talks twice in the last two weeks, citing the impeachment of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and ongoing military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

North Korea says it will only eliminate its nuclear programs in exchange for U.S. security guarantees and economic aid. Washington says it will not reward North Korea for dismantling weapons it has signed pledges not to develop.

The United States says Pyongyang must prove it has eliminated its nuclear programs before it receives any U.S. concessions.

Ambassador Pritchard, who served under President Clinton and in the current administration, says such verification will be very hard to achieve to President Bush's satisfaction. "Verification within the administration has meant one definition, and that is 100 percent," he says. "It is absolutely impossible."

Ambassador Pritchard notes that even in Iraq, where occupying soldiers have been searching full time, it has been impossible to verify the status of possible Iraqi weapons programs.