Bush approves talks in Beijing with North Korea David E. Sanger, New York Times
Published April 16, 2003 KORE16
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Bush has approved a plan for the United States to begin negotiations with North Korea next week in Beijing, the first talks between the two countries since the government of Kim Jong Il threw out international inspectors and restarted its main nuclear weapons plant, U.S. and Asian officials said Tuesday.
White House officials refused to comment on the negotiations. But officials in several countries said China has now promised the United States it will act as a full participant in the talks, rather than just convening the other two parties. The Chinese had hoped to conduct the initial meetings in secret, officials said.
The agreement to enter the negotiations with both China and the United States marks a major concession for North Korea and an apparent victory for President Bush. His strategy of not engaging in one-on-one talks with North Korea had been widely criticized by Asian allies and by many 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.
Bush refused, insisting that the North Korean nuclear program was a major problem for all of northeast Asia. He said that if the United States negotiated alone, North Korea would attempt to split Washington from its Asian allies, who would pressure the United States to strike a deal on North Korea's terms.
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 U.S. official familiar with the negotiations said Tuesday.
The official described the participation of the Chinese as a breakthrough.
"What's new here is that there is an active, bold participatory role for the Chinese," the official said.