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U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, and Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon take questions during a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, left, and Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon take questions during a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

SEOUL — Secretary of State Colin Powell ended a three-country tour of Asia on Tuesday by again urging North Korea’s government to resume talks about its nuclear weapons program.

Powell met with his South Korean counterpart, Ban Ki-moon, in Seoul to bolster support from another member of the six-nation team created to negotiate with North Korea about its pursuit of nuclear technologies.

“We agreed to changes devoted to maximum efforts to achieve this goal through multi-lateral diplomacy and six-party talks,” Powell said during a news conference with Ban early Tuesday afternoon. “We will remain in close touch on how we can move forward despite North Korea’s failure to follow through on its commitment to participate in a fourth talk.”

Powell also discussed U.S. plans to consolidate its presence on the peninsula. The change includes permanently removing 12,500 military personnel from South Korea in the next few years and relocating Yongsan Garrison from Seoul to Pyongtaek.

“I also expressed my appreciation for the progress we have made in realigning the U.S. troop presence here and consolidating our bases,” Powell said of his talk over lunch with Ban.

During the news conference, Powell acknowledged the Yongsan move would have “political and economic costs” for South Korea’s capital city. He emphasized that those concerns will be addressed in future negotiations between South Korea and the United States as they determine the costs each country must shoulder.

Some South Korean legislators have bristled at provisions of the realignment agreement that say Korea must bear all of the estimated $4.9 billion cost of relocating U.S. bases around the peninsula.

“We will have to spend a great deal of time in consultation with each other,” Powell said about Special Measures Agreement talks, which involve setting those costs. “We will have to examine the SMA and renegotiate it. We look forward to that.”

Powell also used the visit to praise South Korea’s support in fighting terrorism, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said relations between the United States and South Korea have reached “a new level, a new plateau” as the two governments work toward downsizing America troops on the peninsula in the next few years.

The stalled North Korean talks remained a focus of Tuesday’s news conference, with Ban supporting Powell’s efforts to persuade North Korea to return to the negotiating table.

“Both of our countries agreed to continue to work in close coordination so that the party talks can be reconvened as they should be,” Ban said through an interpreter.

North Korean officials have met previously as part of the six-party talks — which also include Russia, China and Japan — but refused to attend a September meeting. They have said future talks depend on whether the United States would change its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang, though many speculate North Korea is awaiting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election before announcing whether it would resume talks.

The South Korean foreign minister added that Powell agreed to work to improve humanitarian conditions in North Korea “that will bring real improvements to North Korea’s human rights and will contribute to keep stability on the Korean peninsula.”

Hwang Hae-rym contributed to this report.

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