Sydney Morning Herald & NYT
Time for a chat How the talks will be structured: United States and North Korean officials will meet in Beijing next Wednesday to try to resolve the nuclear stand-off.
After the meeting, which will also involve China, the talks will be expanded to include South Korea, and later Japan and Russia.
US President George Bush has approved a plan for the United States to begin negotiations with North Korea in Beijing next week.
They will be the first talks between the two countries since the Kim Jong-il government expelled international inspectors and restarted its main nuclear weapons plant.
White House officials refused to comment on the negotiations, but officials in several countries said on Tuesday that China has now promised the US it will take part in the talks. The Chinese had hoped to conduct the initial meetings in secret, officials said.
“We expect multilateral talks with North Korea to take place in Beijing next week,” a US official in Seoul said. “We’ve consulted very closely with South Korea, and they have expressed their approval.”
The official could not confirm the talks would be held on Wednesday, as reported by Japan’s Kyodo news agency.
The move marks an important concession by North Korea and an apparent victory for Mr Bush. His strategy of not engaging in one-on-one talks with North Korea had been criticised by Asian allies and Korea experts.
North Korea, in turn, had insisted on talking only with Washington, a reflection, experts said, of its obsession with being treated as an equal.
Mr Bush insisted the North Korean nuclear program was a problem for all of North-East Asia.
But by keeping the Japanese, the South Koreans and the Russians out of the room next week, the North can make the face-saving argument that only one other nation – one that has served as the North’s economic lifeline – is involved.
“This is what the traffic would bear,” a senior US official familiar with the negotiations said on Tuesday.
The official described the participation of the Chinese as a breakthrough.
The official said that the US “reserved the right” to bring in other nations as the talks progress. Japanese and South Korean officials, while initially unhappy at being excluded, said on Tuesday night that the Bush Administration had promised they would be updated daily on the progress of the talks, and would be given a role in forging negotiating positions.
The US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said that any dialogue “at whatever level it starts and with whatever attendance” would “ultimately encompass the views and thoughts of all the neighbours in the region”.
The US envoy conducting the talks next week will be James Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for Asia.
Mr Kelly’s visit to Pyongyang last October precipitated the crisis, when he accused North Korea of pursuing a nuclear program based on enriched uranium, which was in violation of a 1994 anti-nuclear agreement.
It is unclear how large a role the quick victory in Iraq had on bringing the North Koreans to the table. American and South Korean officials speculated that the speed of Saddam Hussein’s fall might have impelled Kim Jong-il to the conclusion he had to deal with Washington quickly.
US officials said that in their talks with the Chinese they did not say explicitly that any deal would be impossible if the North Koreans began producing weapons.
“But we said that obviously, as we go through this, the entire political environment would be totally contaminated if missiles started flying, or reprocessing started,” the senior official said.