Powell spurns N. Korea demand on talks
US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday rejected demands by North Korea of a U.S. "reward" before North Korea would agree to resume multinational talks about its nuclear weapons programs.
"This is a six-party discussion, not a U.S.-North Korea discussion or an exchange of U.S. and North Korean talking points," Powell told reporters during his flight to Tokyo, the first stop on a three-nation trip to East Asia.
He planned Sunday meetings with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Foreign
Minister Nobutaka Machimura before heading to China and South Korea.
The spokesman, who was quoted by the official KCNA news agency but was not identified, said North Korea is insisting on discussing recent disclosures by South Korea that its scientists had carried out nuclear experiments involving plutonium and uranium years ago. The Bush administration has dismissed the South's experiments as insignificant and said they were of an academic nature.
The United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia have held three rounds of nuclear talks with North Korea. A new round was scheduled for September in Beijing, but North Korea declined to attend.
North Korea says it has several plutonium-based nuclear weapons and denies U.S. allegations it has a secret uranium-based nuclear weapons program. The United States has said it would provide economic benefits to North Korea once the North provides a credible commitment to permanent and verifiable disarmament.
Powell's trip could be his last to the region in his current post. The North Korea question is expected to dominate Powell's discussions at each stop.
His decision to travel to Asia shortly before the Nov. 2 presidential election in the United State could be intended as an attempt to show resolve on one of the administration's most difficult foreign policy issues.
Democratic nominee John Kerry contends the administration has mishandled the North Korea problem and should have embraced the Clinton-era policy of direct talks with the country.
Bush administration officials believe North Korea is biding its time on nuclear negotiations, sensing that Kerry might win the election and be easier to deal with than Bush, who has linked North Korea with Iran and Iraq in an "axis of evil."
On Saturday, Powell dismissed North Korean concerns about hostile U.S. intent. "We have no intention of invading them, no plans to attack," he said.
But the North Korean news agency said upcoming joint U.S.-Japan naval exercises are a clear indication of U.S. hostility. The exercises are part of an international effort to block attempts at smuggling nuclear technology on the high seas.
The North Korean statement said the maneuvers are an "undisguised" attempt to "blockade and stifle" the North.
Powell noted that the international anti-smuggling effort is endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.
"There's nothing wrong with naval forces coming together to exercise for the purpose of seeing if we can do a better job of keeping the most dangerous cargos from reaching the most irresponsible purchasers of such cargo," Powell said. "It does not threaten North Korea. ... It protects the rest of the world."