U.S. Meets With N. Korea Over Nuclear Program
By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 25, 2004; Page A15
U.S. and North Korean officials met yesterday for 2 1/2 hours on the sidelines of six-nation talks in Beijing, the longest meeting between senior officials of the two nations since the crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions began 20 months ago.
U.S. officials stressed that the discussions were not negotiations or even bilateral, because the contents of the discussions were immediately shared with delegations from the other countries at the talks: South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.
But the length of the private session -- when the Bush administration is under attack by Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry for not having direct talks -- indicated the administration is more willing to engage directly with the North Koreans.
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is considering a brief meeting with his North Korean counterpart when both attend a regional conference in Jakarta, Indonesia, next week, officials said.
The North Korean delegation, still awaiting instructions from Pyongyang, was not prepared yesterday to respond in detail to the more specific proposal advanced by the administration on the opening day of the talks Wednesday, U.S. officials said. The administration offered North Korea the possibility of energy aid from South Korea, security assurances and other benefits during a three-month test period if it promises to disclose and end its nuclear weapons programs.
In a plenary session Wednesday, North Korea reiterated its demands for significant aid in exchange for freezing its plutonium program. North Korea also again denied it has a secret uranium-enrichment program, as alleged by the United States.
During the private session, the North Korean officials described the revised U.S. plan as a "constructive proposal," according to a White House official speaking under the condition of anonymity. The North Koreans then asked a few questions before reverting to what the official called the "same-old, same-old" complaints about the administration's "hostile policy."
At one point, officials said, North Korean officials appeared to raise the possibility of testing a nuclear device, a threat made at the first six-nation talks last August. North Korean officials had not repeated the threat since, in part because the U.S. delegation immediately reported it to the other delegations.
According to the White House official, the North Koreans offered to freeze all of their country's activities, including testing nuclear weapons.
But when the Americans asked whether Pyongyang is planning to test its weapons, the North Koreans backed away from the statement, he said. The officials, from the North Korean Foreign Ministry, suggested they had little control over the wishes of the North Korean military, who they added want to test and test soon.
Another senior U.S. official briefed on the talks said that James Kelly, the chief U.S. negotiator, responded that North Korea already does not have much trust in Washington and that its performance in the meeting would only worsen the impression.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company