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Diplomats Seek N. Korea Nuclear Talks - 2003-07-16

A wave of diplomatic activity is underway to bring North Korea's nuclear activities back to the negotiating table. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing discussed the issue by telephone, while Australian Prime Minister John Howard took it up personally with Japanese leaders.

China's official Xinhua news agency says Mr. Powell and Mr. Li exchanged views over the telephone Wednesday on the escalating North Korean nuclear dispute.

The telephone call came amid growing worries about North Korea's nuclear ambitions. A number of nations have expressed concern over Pyongyang's recent claim to have reprocessed nuclear reactor rods into atomic fuel. A White House spokesman says that claim is being investigated.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan said Tuesday that China hopes the parties involved can work toward a peaceful and nuclear-free solution.

Beijing sent Vice Foreign Minster Dai Bangguo to Pyongyang earlier this week, with a letter from Chinese President Hu Jintao to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Media reports say the letter urged Mr. Kim to agree to multilateral talks on the dispute. Mr. Powell and Mr. Li's conversation came shortly after Mr. Dai's return to Beijing.

North Korea has repeatedly insisted on speaking one-on-one with the United States, which it blames for creating the crisis. A commentary Wednesday in an official newspaper said the American demand for multilateral talks is "complicating" the matter.

But other nations, including Australia and Japan, are echoing the U.S. view. "The threat of North Korea is real," said Australian Prime Minister John Howard, Wednesday while visiting Tokyo on a three-nation sweep through Asia. "But like all threats, it has to be dealt with in a careful and sober fashion through a combination of steady diplomacy and those nations that can most influence the behavior of North Korea, namely Japan, the United States, China, South Korea, and arguably also Russia."

North Korea claims it already possesses nuclear weapons, and says it will use them against the United States if provoked. Washington and North Korea's Asian neighbors want the North's nuclear program abolished.

The crisis first erupted last October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted to running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international accords.