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Russia presents nuclear settlement plan to North Korean leaders

| Monday, Jan. 20, 2003

SEOUL, South Korea — Russia presented a settlement plan to North Korean leaders Sunday and U.S. diplomats broadened offers of aid to the impoverished North, speeding the pace of diplomacy to resolve the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Also, South Korea's president-elect declared he didn't mean to suggest the United States considered a military strike on the North, saying his comments Saturday were misinterpreted by the media.

Washington for weeks has insisted on a peaceful solution to the dispute, and yesterday U.S. envoys were in Japan and China to seek regional advice and cooperation on ending the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

China and Russia, among the communist North's only remaining allies, are seen as key in pressuring it to back down or in acting as intermediaries for the United States.

French President Jacques Chirac said in an interview published yesterday that the escalating crisis was a matter for the U.N. Security Council.

France has no confidence in the North Korean regime "whether it comes to human rights or guaranteeing it will not become a nuclear power," Chirac told Le Figaro newspaper.

If the issue goes before the Council, France would propose forming an ad hoc group to address it. As well as the five permanent members of the Council — United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — the group would include Japan and South Korea, he said.

France currently holds the rotating Security Council presidency and could raise the issue any time this month.

What Russia called its "package plan," presented yesterday by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov in Pyongyang, envisions security guarantees for North Korea and the resumption of humanitarian aid and economic help in exchange for abandoning its nuclear programs.

Russia expected a reply today, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

In Seoul, U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard said the United States intends to take the lead in defusing the crisis but wants other nations to play a large role.

"We don't see North Korea as exclusively a U.S. problem," Hubbard told South Korea's largest broadcaster, KBS. "Its nuclear threat is not just a threat to the United States, it's a challenge to the entire international system."

Hubbard also extended the possibility of broad aid for the North.

"If they satisfy our concerns about the nuclear programs, we are prepared to consider a broad approach that would entail, in the final analysis, some economic cooperation, perhaps in the power field," he said. "We are prepared to go beyond food aid."

His comments on a morning talk show came amid mounting international pressure for Washington to engage North Korea in direct talks.

Roh has urged Washington to "actively" take part in dialogue, and Losyukov characterized the crisis as mainly a problem between North Korea and the United States.

Complicating diplomatic efforts, Roh — who was elected Dec. 19 — said Saturday that U.S. officials last month discussed attacking North Korea.

"In fact, the time I was campaigning and getting elected, U.S. hard-liners, people in very responsible positions in the U.S. administration, were talking about the possibility of attacking North Korea and the possibility of war," Roh told a panel of university professors on KBS-TV, according to a transcript.

But a spokesman, Lee Nak-yeon, said foreign media misinterpreted the remarks. He said Roh referred generally to media reports about a possible attack on North Korea, and was not saying that U.S. officials seriously considered a military option.

"The misunderstanding was created because some foreign media and U.S. press, using this material, reported as if Roh said the possibility of attacking North Korea had been discussed, considered or planned within the U.S. administration," Lee said. "This is an imprecise quotation and can distort his intentions."

Lee said Roh, who takes office next month, was "well aware" that President Bush had no intention of invading North Korea and was willing to resolve the nuclear crisis peacefully.

Washington, under President Clinton, drew up plans to bomb North Korea's nuclear site at Yongbyon in 1994 over its possible weapons activities. The two sides defused that crisis with an energy deal, which collapsed when the new dispute erupted.

In October, the United States said North Korea had admitted developing nuclear weapons in violation of the 1994 agreement. In response, Washington suspended fuel shipments guaranteed under the pact.

North Korea in turn expelled U.N. inspectors, reactivated nuclear facilities and announced its withdrawal from a global anti-nuclear pact Jan. 10. It has threatened to drop a moratorium on missile tests and reopen a lab that could be used to reprocess spent fuel rods, a step toward making nuclear arms.

Pyongyang rejected calls to have the U.N. Security Council intervene in the current dispute, saying yesterday the nuclear crisis a decade ago was solved through direct talks with the United States and this one can be settled the same way.

Furthering U.S. diplomatic moves, Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly met yesterday with Japan's foreign minister in Tokyo, and Undersecretary of State John Bolton arrived in Beijing for talks expected to focus on the nuclear standoff.

Also yesterday, about 40,000 people rallied at a Christian demonstration in Seoul to support the U.S. military presence in South Korea and to condemn North Korea's suspected nuclear program. U.S. troops are seen as a deterrent to a possible attack from the North.

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