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North Korea tops Powell's Asia agenda

Powell will leave Friday for Tokyo, followed by trips to Beijing and Seoul.
Powell will leave Friday for Tokyo, followed by trips to Beijing and Seoul.

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N. Korea blames U.S. threats of military action for the nuclear crisis, and South Korea strongly opposes any war with the North.
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Should North Korea's threat to pull out of the 1953 armistice be taken seriously?


- Ceasefire agreement signed between U.S. and North Korean forces 27 July, 1953

- No peace treaty ever signed, meaning both sides effectively still at war

- Agreement divided Korean Peninsula along the 38th parallel, creating a heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South

- Armistice overseen by U.S.-led United Nations Command and the North Korean military at "truce village" of Panmunjom.

- 650,000 South Korean troops and 37,000 U.S. troops on South side of DMZ; More than one million North Korean troops on North's side

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit Japan and China this week to discuss the North Korean nuclear standoff before attending South Korea's presidential inauguration.

Powell will leave Friday for Tokyo, Japan, followed by trips to Beijing, China, and Seoul, South Korea, where he will represent the United States at the February 25 inauguration of South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun. (Profile)

The United States believes "that working with the Chinese leadership and with other leaders in the region -- in Japan, in Russia, in South Korea, Australia, elsewhere -- we all have an interest in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and that's why we believe it is appropriate for all of the regional powers to work together with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to show to the DPRK that a better future awaits their people," Powell said in an interview Wednesday with China's Phoenix TV.

North Korea signed a nuclear nonproliferation treaty in 1994 with the United States, South Korea and Japan, but recently said it was backing out of it, against International Atomic Energy Agency regulations.

Tensions began mounting on the Korean peninsula in October, when the United States said North Korea admitted to secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program in violation of the treaty. Pyongyang denies it is building nuclear weapons, saying it is using its nuclear plants for energy purposes only.

The situation was aggravated in December when North Korea refused to clarify a report on an undeclared nuclear enrichment program and ousted IAEA inspectors from the country, said agency head Mohamed ElBaradei.

North Korea withdrew from the treaty soon after the ElBaradei reported the problems to the IAEA board.

On Monday, Pyongyang warned it was prepared to drop out of the armistice that ended the 1953 Korean War.

The United States is likely waiting until after South Korea's new president is inaugurated before taking serious moves to end the spat with Pyongyang, according to one U.S. analyst.

"Until South Korea ends its political transition, it might be perceived to be a little unseemly for us (America) to move forward," Richard Bush, a director from U.S. policy group The Brookings Institution, told a gathering in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

North Korea has repeatedly said it wants direct talks with the United States and has urged Washington to sign a non-aggression pact.

Powell said he also planned to discuss the Iraq situation, particularly with China -- one of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

While the U.S. and China share a desire to find a peaceful solution to the situation with Iraq, Powell said, the two nations both voted for U.N. Resolution 1441, which demands that Iraq rid itself of its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The U.N. Security Council is divided over the Iraq issue.

"Iraq continues not to provide the inspectors what they need to do the job and disarm Iraq, so this will be an opportunity for me to discuss this once again with my Chinese colleagues and point out to them that the United States feels strongly that we cannot just allow inspections to continue forever, and the answer is not more inspectors, the answer is Iraq compliance," Powell said.

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