WASHINGTON (AP) – On a trip to East Asia, Secretary of State Colin Powell intends to work out a strategy with Japan, China and South Korea on how to convince North Korea it is not under threat of attack.

The aim is to revive negotiations to curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs. Six-way talks including the United States and both South and North Korea were to have been resumed in September but North Korea refused to attend because it said the Bush administration has not abandoned its “hostile” policy toward the North.

“It’s a nice little cover line that they use,” Powell said on Fox News Radio’s “Tony Snow Show” before leaving Friday for East Asia. He said he would be discussing with U.S. friends in the region a strategy for bringing North Korea back to the table.

“We are essentially in a discussion, a debate, negotiation” as to what North Korea might get in exchange for halting development of weapons-grade uranium, Powell said.

North Korea says it wants security guarantees and economic aid in exchange for dealing with other countries’ fears about its nuclear activities. The United States wants an immediate halt to nuclear activities and renewed international inspections. South Korea and Japan have offered fuel oil to the impoverished country as an incentive. During the Clinton administration, North Korea agreed to stop its plutonium-based nuclear program in exchange for 500 metric tons of heavy oil annually from the United States and help for its energy programs from Japan and South Korea.

The aid was stopped after the Americans said North Korea had admitted to having a uranium-based nuclear program.

At the Pentagon on Friday, South Korea’s defense chief endorsed the six-nation formula, which the United States insisted on, rather than direct U.S.-North Korean talks. Besides the United States, the two Koreas and Japan, China and Russia are participants in the suspended talks.

“The Korean government has never considered bilateral meetings or talks between North Korea and the United States,” Defense Minister Yoon Kwang Ung told a news conference. Nevertheless, he said, “if that were to happen, I would assume there should be close consultations between Washington and Seoul.”

Appearing with Yoon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the Bush administration’s goal is to find a diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear problem, “and that process is under way.”

President Bush has said the multilateral approach is the only way to deal with North Korea. Democratic challenger John Kerry says he would open bilateral talks, while simultaneously pursuing the six-party approach, to resolve U.S. objections to the North’s nuclear ambitions.

“President Bush has made it clear that we are not interested in invading North Korea,” Powell said Friday. “We want to help the North Korean people. But that help will only come when they have, in a way that is fully verifiable, gotten rid of their nuclear weapons programs.”

At all three stops on Powell’s East Asia tour, he plans to compare notes on the possibility of resuming six-country discussions on ending the stalemate over Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

The negotiating process was set back recently when North Korea refused to attend a new round of six-party discussions after initially agreeing to do so.

“It was a marvelous act of misdirection, and the North Koreans said, “Gosh, if we got them to pay for it once, let’s do it again and see if we can get them to pay for it again,” Powell said on the radio.

There has been widespread speculation that North Korea wants to hold off on resuming discussions until after the U.S. election in hopes that President Bush will be defeated.

That may explain, Powell said, North Korea’s unhurried behavior. He said he told Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun and his colleagues last June they can expect the “same president” for the next four years.

AP-ES-10-22-04 1717EDT

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