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April 12, 2003
 
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(Reuters Photo)
US Voices 'Interest' in N.Korean Stance, to Respond

Reuters


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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expressed "interest" on Saturday in a statement by North Korea suggesting it may be open to multilateral talks on the country's suspected nuclear arms program, and said Washington would respond through diplomatic channels.

The announcement could mark a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff just days after U.S.-led forces removed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power in a war the South Korean president said had "petrified" the North.

Pyongyang until now had insisted on direct talks with Washington, which is demanding a multilateral dialogue.

While receptive to North Korea's surprise overture, U.S. officials made clear it would take time to assess its intentions.

In its statement, North Korea said it would consider any form of dialogue with the United States about its suspected nuclear arms ambitions if Washington made a "bold switchover" in its policy toward Pyongyang.

"We noted the statement with interest," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said, adding, "We expect to follow up through appropriate diplomatic channels."

The United States and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations, but exchange messages through diplomatic channels in New York. The United States can also work through intermediaries such as Russia and China.

Pyongyang's dramatic shift from a rigid insistence on bilateral talks came in comments from North Korea's Foreign Ministry one day after Bush declared Saddam was "no longer in power" in Iraq and warned Syria against accepting escaping Saddam loyalists.

Washington -- which has lumped communist North Korea in an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran for allegedly seeking weapons of mass destruction -- has long insisted on multilateral talks that include regional players South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.

NO MILITARY INTENTIONS

U.S. officials continued on Saturday to stress the importance of bringing North Korea's neighbors into the dialogue, and sought to assure Pyongyang that Washington had no intentions of settling the dispute militarily as it did in the case of Iraq.

"The United States continues to seek a peaceful end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program through diplomacy and in close consultations with our allies and other key concerned states," said State Department spokeswoman Amanda Batt.

"The U.N. Security Council will continue to discuss this issue in New York. The intense involvement of North Korea's immediate neighbors in communicating the international community's serious concerns about North Korea's nuclear weapons program is an important element of our diplomatic efforts," she added.

The crisis erupted last October when Washington said Pyongyang admitted having a covert nuclear weapons program, although the North denied making such an admission.

Last Wednesday, the day Saddam's rule ended in Baghdad, the U.N. Security Council met to discuss the North's nuclear stance but did not issue a statement urging Pyongyang to fall into line, because of opposition from China and Russia.


photo credit and caption:
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (R) meets Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov at the presidential Blue House in Seoul April 10, 2003. Ivanov said North Korea had learned from the U.S.-led war that unseated Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and might ignore any U.N. decision on its own suspected nuclear weapons program. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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