Clinton Offers Korea New Peace Initiative

CHEJU ISLAND, South Korea -- U.S. President Bill Clinton and South Korean leader Kim Young-sam on Tuesday invited North Korea and China to join talks aimed at securing a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula.

But their peace initiative, unveiled on the South Korean resort island of Cheju, immediately ran into trouble, with North Korea's ambassador to Moscow slapping it down and Russia insisting it must have a role.

Clinton left South Korea Tuesday afternoon and arrived in Tokyo to kick off his three-day visit with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

Meanwhile, Beijing shied away from direct comment on the Korean initiative, saying only it wanted to play a constructive role in maintaining peace.

The offer for the four-nation talks emerged after a summit between Clinton and Kim to discuss North Korea's three armed troop incursions this month that flouted an armistice ending the 1950 to 1953 Korean War.

"It can begin as soon as possible and there are no preconditions," Clinton told a joint news conference.

Both leaders warned North Korea was not likely to jump at the offer, which Seoul conveyed to Pyongyang last Sunday, and first reactions showed their misgivings were well founded.

"I would caution that we should not expect an immediate positive response," Clinton said.

Hours later Itar-Tass quoted North Korea's envoy to Moscow as saying Pyongyang saw no need for multilateral talks.

"At present other countries have no role to play in this area. There is no need for an international conference on this question," Son Song-pil said. He reiterated Pyongyang's demand for direct peace talks with Washington.

A South Korean foreign ministry official said he did not consider Son's comments to be an official response.

Clinton flatly ruled out bilateral talks with Pyongyang, saying peace was the responsibility of Koreans alone. North and South Korea, the United States and China are parties to the armistice that ended the Korean War. There has never been a formal peace treaty.

While Japan enthusiastically embraced the plan, North Korea's other powerful neighbour Russia made clear it was not happy at being excluded from the peace process.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin told a news briefing Moscow was still pushing for a multilateral conference and that Russia, once a close ally of the communist leadership in Pyongyang, must play a role.

South Korea's Kim appeared confident that a crumbling North Korea would have no choice but to sue for peace.

"Time is on our side," said Kim. "I believe that eventually North Korea will accept our proposal."

In Japan, Clinton and Hashimoto began their summit with an informal dinner held at the official Japanese guesthouse, the Akasaka Palace. The gathering was a casual affair with the eight diners, including the two leaders' wives, seated at the traditional low table.

Hashimoto presented Clinton with a baseball and glove autographed by Japanese sensation Hideo Nomo, who pitches for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the U.S. major league.

The two leaders are expected to discuss issues related to Pacific regional security.