SEOUL, South Korea - After failing to secure promises of support from China and Japan for U.S. policies on Iraq and North Korea, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell attended the inauguration today of South Korea's new president, Roh Moo Hyun.
Seoul is the last stop on Powell's three-nation Asia tour. And as a provocative reminder of the tense security situation on the Korean peninsula that Powell is trying to ease, North Korea conducted its first missile launch test in three years, firing an unidentified rocket into the sea between Korea and Japan. It landed in North Korean waters.
On his first two stops, neither China nor Japan backed the Bush administration's newest United Nations resolution on Iraq or its insistence on multilateral talks with North Korea, though Powell was told that relations with the United States were improving, and he found common ground on many issues.
Powell told reporters in Beijing on Sunday that he had had "excellent meetings" with Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao and President Jiang Zemin. On North Korea, he said: "I think they are anxious to play as helpful a role as they can. ... They prefer to play their role quietly, but they have a clear understanding of our desires and our interests."
But statements in the Chinese news media indicated that Powell had made no apparent headway in changing Chinese minds on Iraq or North Korea.
Even before Powell's plane landed in Beijing, Hu told the official New China News Agency that China hoped Washington would hold direct talks with Pyongyang as soon as possible. Powell has rejected such talks.
Powell argued yesterday that North Korea's nuclear ambitions threaten not just America but the world, and said Asian neighbors must take part in crafting a solution that persuades Pyongyang to abandon attempts to develop nuclear weapons.
"Merely because North Korea says this [direct talks] is the only way they will deal does not necessarily mean that it is the right way with which to deal with this issue," Powell said.
But Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, was quoted on state-run Chinese television as saying the United States and North Korea should hold early talks "on an equal basis."
In a meeting with Powell after Roh's inauguration, South Korea's new president was expected to make a case for direct talks and a patient approach.
Sonni Efron writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Wire services contributed to this article.