U.S. told it should handle N. Korea


Published: Saturday, January 18, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 17, 2003 at 10:03 p.m.
SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's president-elect pressed the United States on Friday to enter direct negotiations with North Korea, and an envoy from Russia - which has been urged to intervene with the North - said Washington must take the lead in dealing with the crisis.
A North Korean official also said only the United States could solve the standoff and spurned an attempt by Seoul to discuss the North's nuclear ambitions in talks next week.
Washington has been canvassing allies to pressure North Korea into scrapping nuclear programs believed capable of building atomic bombs.
President Bush has said the United States is willing to talk with the North, but not hold negotiations over its nuclear program - an offer Pyongyang said was insincere. Bush has held out the possibility of energy and agricultural aid if the North abandons its nuclear plans but refused to make any guarantees.
Russia and China, two of North Korea's historical allies, are expected to play a key role in reaching a solution, possibly as mediators. But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov played down Russia's contribution Friday.
"First of all, this situation needs to be resolved on a bilateral level, between North Korea and the United States," said Losyukov, in Beijing to discuss the impasse.
"This is mainly an issue between the United States and the (North), but other countries also have a major interest in the situation," he said.
Losyukov was expected to travel to North Korea this weekend for talks with officials in Pyongyang.
South Korea's president-elect, Roh Moo-hyun, who takes office next month, told members of American and European chambers of commerce in an address Friday that, "I would like to persuade the United States to engage actively in dialogue with North Korea."
In a New York Times interview, he expressed optimism that talks could help. "North Korea wants to escape from its status as a rogue state and open up to the world," Roh said.
in an interview with The New York Times published in its Friday editions. "I believe once those things are guaranteed, North Korea will abandon its nuclear ambitions."
Roh also said it was important that South Korea and the United States remain strong allies. He said he expected to work well with President Bush, calling him a "cool guy."
Roh downplayed worries that he rode to power on rising anti-American sentiment in South Korea, where some people are sensitive about the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed there.
Voices of anti-Americanism in Korea are "small and the chances of their leading public opinion is even smaller," Roh said.
Diplomatic efforts have grown more intense since last week, when North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It has threatened to resume its missile tests and reprocess spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor, a possible step toward making nuclear arms.
The current standoff began in October, when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret nuclear program. In response, Washington suspended fuel shipments. North Korea responded by expelling U.N. nuclear inspectors and said it had reactivated nuclear facilities frozen since 1994.
South Korea has said it would use its contacts with the North to press for an end to its nuclear programs.
But a Northern official was quoted as saying that Pyongyang would refuse to discuss the nuclear issue in Cabinet-level talks in Seoul next week.
"The nuclear issue should be resolved through talks between (North Korea) and the United States," said Cho Chung-han, the deputy head of the department that handles relations with the South. "It cannot be resolved by South Koreans."
Cho's comments appeared Thursday in the Choson Sinbo, the newspaper of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan.
South Korea on Friday accepted North Korea's proposal to hold four days of talks beginning Wednesday in Pyongyang on connecting cross-border railways and roads.
The Koreas, divided since 1945, have agreed to build two sets of railways and roads across their border. But the projects, the most visible product of a historic inter-Korean summit in 2000, suffered delays amid tensions between North Korea and the United States.

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