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Rice says time is running out on North talks

Mar 20,2005
Declaring that the stalemate over North Korea’s nuclear arms program cannot go on forever, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice forcefully restated Washington’s position yesterday that U.S. diplomats would hold no direct talks with representatives of Pyeongyang outside the six-party framework.
North Korea has long sought bilateral exchanges with the United States.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Ms. Rice suggested time is running out to resolve the North Korea nuclear crisis through the talks. “We need to resolve the issue. It cannot go on forever,” she said.
She went on: “This is not an issue between the United States and North Korea. This is an issue of the neighborhood and what kind of Korean Peninsula we are going to have,” Ms. Rice said.
Saying a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula is in the national interest of all parties involved in the negotiations, Ms. Rice stated flatly, “What we will not do is separate out the United States from the others in the six-party talks.”
Both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been involved in negotiations since 2003 in order to end the North Korea nuclear crisis, but Pyeongyang announced on Feb. 10 it possessed nuclear weapons and said it was indefinitely suspending participation in the talks citing what it called a hostile U.S. policy.
Earlier in the day, Ms. Rice paid a courtesy call on President Roh Moo-hyun and met briefly with Unification Minister Chung Dong-young before her meeting with Mr. Ban.
The secretary’s effort to coax North Korea back to the talks follows testimony last week by Christopher Hill, Washington’s top envoy to the six-party talks. Mr. Hill, designated as U.S. assistant under secretary for Pacific and Asian affairs, said at his Senate confirmation hearing that if Pyeongyang continued to refuse to participate in the talks the United States would have to look for other ways to resolve the crisis.
Meeting with reporters following his discussion with Ms. Rice, Mr. Ban appeared optimistic that progress could be made. He said remarks made by Ms. Rice in Tokyo a day earlier, in which she called North Korea a “sovereign state,” were a positive step that would help create an atmosphere for the talks to resume.
Mr. Ban said because it would be hard for the U.S. secretary of state to withdraw the statement in which she called Pyeongyang an “outpost of tyranny,” he said that her comment about the North’s sovereignty indirectly addressed the issue. The North, in demanding an apology, has repeatedly pointed out that Ms. Rice’s remarks are an obstacle to reviving the talks. Before leaving on her tour of Asia, Ms. Rice said she would not engage in any semantic analysis regarding her earlier statement.
Asked by reporters on the meaning of her words, calling Pyeongyang a “sovereign state,” Ms. Rice only said that Pyeongyang’s membership of the United Nations and the fact that negotiations are taking place are proof enough of the North’s sovereignty. She reiterated that the United States has no intention of invading or attacking the North.
According to a Blue House official, President Roh explained to Ms. Rice the current situation regarding the Tokto Islets dispute between South Korea and Japan. Ms. Rice said that since Japan and South Korea are close U.S. allies, Washington would not take sides. Ms. Rice’s two-day Seoul visit, which began on Saturday, was part of her six-nation tour. She left Seoul yesterday for Beijing.


by Brian Lee


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