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US Says Will Talk to North Korea
Washington shifted course on Tuesday and said it was willing to talk to North Korea about its atomic program, as the UN nuclear watchdog said Pyongyang had "only a matter of weeks" to readmit inspectors expelled last week.

The United States, which previously insisted North Korea roll back recent steps to revive its nuclear programs before any talks, announced its new position after holding talks at the State Department with South Korea and Japan.

"The United States is willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community," the three countries said in a joint statement.

"However, the US delegation stressed that the United States will not provide quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations," the statement added.

Earlier, North Korea intensified its rhetoric, demanding the United States open talks and saying any sanctions over its nuclear program would "mean a war, and the war knows no mercy."

President Bush had hinted at the US change in position on Monday, saying, "We'll have dialogue," without setting any preconditions.

His aides said later North Korea must first dismantle its nuclear weapon programs, a precondition they acknowledged they dropped on Tuesday. "This is a step forward from what we have been saying and doing," one senior US official said.

Tensions have flared since Pyongyang last month expelled UN inspectors and vowed to restart a reactor idle since a 1994 pact that froze its nuclear program in exchange for oil from the West.

The US decision marked a partial step in the direction of South Korea, which has argued in favor of a dialogue with the North. In media leaks over the weekend, South Korea dropped hints it wanted Washington to give North Korea security assurances and a promise to resume energy supplies in return for Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear programs.

The United States is seeking to play down the threat from North Korea, which analysts believe may already possess one or two nuclear weapons, as it prepares for a possible war with Iraq, which it also accuses of seeking weapons of mass destruction but which is not believed to possess nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Chicago, Bush, who has branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran, sought to allay North Korean anxieties about US intentions by again saying the United States had no intent of invading the country.

"We have no aggressive intent, no argument with the North Korean people. We're interested in peace on the Korean Peninsula," Bush said. "I believe that by working with countries in the region, diplomacy will work."


The UN International Atomic Energy Agency said time was running out for Pyongyang to comply with demands for resumed oversight of its nuclear facilities.

"We have ... made it very clear to North Korea that it is not an open-ended invitation. It's only a matter of weeks," Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the nuclear watchdog, told CNN.

"If they do not come into compliance, we will have to go to the (UN) Security Council and the Security Council will take it from there," he said.

"We are only talking about weeks because I am supposed to report to our member states as a matter of urgency. I interpret urgency to mean weeks at the most," he said.

In their joint statement, the United States, South Korea and Japan again called on North Korea to "completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program."

Referring to North Korea's recent steps to resume its nuclear activities, the three nations "called on North Korea to undo these measures and not take any precipitous action."

Japan's Kyodo news agency reported on Tuesday that a document distributed to the 35 member countries of the IAEA said there was a strong possibility North Korea had acquired a small amount of plutonium since it removed seals from the reactor last month.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said in the document the amount of nuclear material was too small to produce a nuclear bomb but was enough to produce a "dirty bomb" that could scatter radioactive material when detonated, Kyodo said.

A CIA report on Tuesday said that a year before the latest crisis erupted over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, Pyongyang was seeking "large quantities" of centrifuge-related materials that could be used in such a program.


Pyongyang's KCNA news agency denounced the brief seizure last month of a shipload of North Korean scud missiles bound for Yemen, calling it "part of the US-tailored containment strategy against the DPRK (the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea).

"The strategy means total economic sanctions aimed at isolating and stifling the DPRK," the agency said on Tuesday.

"Sanctions mean a war and the war knows no mercy. The US should opt for dialogue with the DPRK, not for war, clearly aware that it will have to pay a very high price for such reckless acts," KCNA added.

A South Korean Unification Ministry official said North Korea's words were being watched.

"People do not think that there is going to be a war," said the official. "But this time, North Korea's nuclear threat can be taken seriously because the North has broken its promises to the United States and the international community."

South and North Korea fought a bloody fratricidal war from 1950 to 1953, with the Chinese fighting on the side of the North and the United States leading UN troops on the side of the South. The hostilities ended in a truce, not a peace pact.

While Washington insists North Korea end its quest for nuclear arms, Pyongyang demands the United States, which keeps 37,000 troops in the South, sign a nonaggression pact.

Impoverished North Korea depends on foreign food aid after years of poor harvests, mismanagement and hunger. Analysts say the North may have sparked the latest confrontation in the hope of wresting more help and attention from the West.

Washington said on Tuesday it intended to provide food aid to North Korea, despite Pyongyang's renewed nuclear threat, if a series of international standards were complied with, a Bush administration official.

The UN World Food Program said on Tuesday it could run out of supplies for North Korea within weeks without fresh donations.

(China Daily January 8, 2003)

US Government Urged to Talk with DPRK Directly
US Rejects DPRK Appeal for Nonaggression Pact
US-DPRK Agreement Possible on Nuclear Issue
US Urges DPRK Not to Restart Frozen Nuclear Programs
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US Calls on DPRK to Replace Monitoring Gears at Nuclear Reactor
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