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Powell Meets With N. Korea Official at Asian Summit

July 31, 2002|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell held a 15-minute "informal chat" with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun today at the beginning of a regional Asian summit in Brunei--the highest-level contact to date between North Korea and the Bush administration.

In his State of the Union address this year, President Bush labeled North Korea one of three members of an "axis of evil" and still regularly lambastes the isolationist regime of Kim Jong Il.

But in a statement announcing the brief talks, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell had noted various statements by North Korea over the last week regretting a deadly naval battle with South Korea and announcing that it was ready for renewed talks with Washington. North Korea, the world's most rigidly Marxist regime, even suggested Tuesday that it would introduce market mechanisms in its economy.

Powell "reaffirmed the president's policy," which stipulated that future formal discussions should deal with the production and sales of North Korea's weapons of mass destruction, the status of the "agreed framework" to curb the Pyongyang regime's nuclear weapons, and withdrawal of conventional forces from along the border with South Korea, Boucher said.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 06, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 10 inches; 375 words Type of Material: Correction
The caption of a photograph that accompanied a July 31 Section A story about the summit of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations misidentified Thailand's foreign minister, Surakiart Sathirathai, as Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirajuda.
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The agreed framework was negotiated in 1994 and provides to North Korea, with help from Japan and South Korea, two well-regulated light-water nuclear reactors for energy. But the program has faced multiple problems and is several years behind schedule.

The meeting in this tiny oil-rich sultanate in a corner of Borneo was a delicately orchestrated "spontaneous" encounter at a lounge outside the hall where the plenary session of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum was taking place, according to U.S. officials.

Earlier in the day, as the North Korean foreign minister entered a breakfast meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Paek had said he was "always ready" to meet with Powell. "If they propose first, I will meet them," he said.

A couple of hours later, at 9:25 a.m., Powell entered the delegates lounge and requested that the North Korean minister be informed that he was there. Paek arrived shortly and they shook hands, the officials said. Then they sat down at a table and talked.

The last contact was in October 2000, when then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright became the highest-level U.S. official to visit Pyongyang since the Korean War half a century ago. The Clinton administration was close to negotiating an end to the production and sale of North Korea's ballistic missiles, but a deal was never concluded because of differences over verification and monitoring.

The Bush administration opted not to pick up on the initiative and instead said it would not talk with the "rogue" regime unless the issue of conventional forces deployed along the border with South Korea were included on the agenda--a subject North Korea has balked at discussing.

U.S. officials traveling with Powell said today that any follow-up meetings with Paek or future travel to North Korea would be evaluated on the basis of statements made by the North.

Powell scored another breakthrough Tuesday in his effort to beef up counter-terrorism cooperation in Southeast Asia, a region that has become known as the "second front" in the war on terrorism. Under U.S. coaxing, the 10 ASEAN nations agreed to the terms of two new pacts to deal with the growing problems of Islamic extremism and other militant movements.

In Brunei, Powell will also hold talks with ASEAN members and sign one of the two agreements, to share intelligence, freeze funds linked to extremist groups and tighten porous borders.

The pact reflects the Bush administration's growing involvement in the region, where Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore have all identified suspects linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

Dozens have been arrested since Sept. 11. Some active plots to attack Western targets have been uncovered.

The agreement coincides with new U.S. plans to provide additional military and counter-terrorism training for Indonesia and the Philippines, which are dealing with insurgencies by Muslim extremists. After Brunei, Powell is to visit those nations.

The Bush administration is eager to end a congressional ban on new military aid to Indonesia aimed at forcing the country to account for serious rights abuses.

"We have some ideas and some initiatives that we will present to them that I think will help them in their efforts in the campaign against terrorism," Powell said.

In the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, earlier Tuesday, Powell held talks with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and other officials about the possibility of Malaysia's becoming the headquarters for regional counter-terrorism training.

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