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Both Koreas to Listen Closely to Bush's State of the Union Address

When President Bush gives his annual State of the Union address on Wednesday, authorities in both North and South Korea will be listening closely for any signs of a new attitude toward Korean security issues.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush referred to North Korea as a member of an "axis of evil." Authorities on both sides of the Korean divide will be listening closely to this year's address for any change in tone towards North Korea and its nuclear weapons programs.

Three rounds of six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, which included the United States and the two Koreas, have been held in China. North Korea boycotted a fourth round of talks scheduled for last September, citing what it called Washington's "hostile attitude." However, Pyongyang recently indicated it was ready to rejoin the talks - depending on what Mr. Bush has to say about the issue.

On Tuesday, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon said he hoped the talks would resume soon. Mr. Ban says he is in agreement with the newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, that the talks are the best way forward.

Michael Green, Asian affairs director for the U.S. National Security Council, was in Seoul Wednesday to consult with officials on the next round of six-party talks. He says the White House wants the talks to resume as soon as possible. Mr. Green said earlier this week that the United States has a serious proposal for North Korea, and is ready to discuss the proposal without preconditions whenever the talks restart. However, during her Senate confirmation hearings, Ms. Rice described North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny."

Kim Tae Woo of the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis says if President Bush uses similar language in his address, it could cause concern in both Pyongyang and Seoul.

"That could mean that North Korea will remain a main enemy of the United States in the second term of the Bush administration," said Kim Tae Woo. "This is a sensitive issue, because South Korea wants the United States to be more sensitive to North Korea."

North Korea says it has reprocessed spent plutonium rods into weapons-grade material. It denies U.S. accusations that it also has a separate program to enrich uranium, which would violate several international agreements. North Korea says it will give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for written assurances that the United States will not attack it, and that substantial economic assistance will be provided.

Washington has said it has no intention of attacking the North, but until now has been demanding that Pyongyang dismantle the program before any aid is given.