WASHINGTON – South Korea's top diplomat urged the United States on Friday to launch a bold initiative toward North Korea, much like President Nixon's groundbreaking opening to China in 1972.
Secretary of State Colin Powell rejected the proposal, saying North Korea must first end its nuclear proliferation activities and other aspects of its military buildup before Washington would consider friendly gestures, such as assistance programs for the North.
Powell spoke to reporters after a 75-minute meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan. He said South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, will visit Washington in May for talks with President Bush.
Before their meeting at the State Department, Yoon had told a gathering that the Bush administration should use Nixon's overture to China as a model for easing the developing crisis with North Korea.
"Such an approach can be applied to North Korea," Yoon said.
In the early 1970s, Washington and Beijing were able to overcome their ideological differences because they both saw a need to contain their common rival, the Soviet Union.
There does not appear to be a comparable convergence of interests between the United States and North Korea that could be used to break the current stalemate.
Yoon said North Korea is eager for good relations with the United States but made the mistake of developing nuclear weapons to try to lure Washington into a negotiation. He called this "the wrong bargaining chip."
During their meeting, Powell said Yoon presented him with a roadmap on ways to ease tensions on the peninsula. Powell gave no details.
North Korea has proposed direct talks with the United States but Powell has said the Clinton administration tried that approach in 1994. The result was a nuclear agreement which, Powell said, the communist country has violated.
As an alternative, Powell has proposed a multilateral approach that would involve the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and other countries. But North Korea has shown no interest.
Before his luncheon meeting with Powell, Yoon spoke to a gathering sponsored by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He will travel to Japan after his consultations here.