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Bush Presses For Talks With North Korea As Soon As Possible


President Bush says he wants multinational talks with North Korea to resume as soon as possible -- after the reclusive state agreed this week to return to the negotiating table.

Mr. Bush told reporters in Washington Wednesday that he is sending two senior State Department officials to the region to discuss strategy for getting the talks underway. At the same time, Mr. Bush said he wants to be sure that current U.N. sanctions against North Korea are implemented.

The president said he wants the talks to succeed and added that he hopes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is sincere in his wish to return to the negotiating table.

North Korea said Wednesday that it will return to the talks on its nuclear program as long as the issue of lifting U. S. financial sanctions will be discussed during the negotiations.

North Korea has boycotted the talks since last November to protest the U.S. sanctions, which aim to punish the reclusive government of Kim Jong Il for alleged counterfeiting and money laundering.

In the past, Washington has said its financial sanctions are a separate issue from the nuclear negotiations. But Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy on North Korean affairs, says the U.S. has agreed to discuss this point of contention at the upcoming meeting.

Earlier Wednesday, South Korea and Japan welcomed North Korea back to multilateral talks on its nuclear program but they say that they will continue to enforce sanctions imposed on Pyongyang after its nuclear test last month.

Pyongyang decided to return to the talks following an informal meeting Tuesday in Beijing involving North Korea, the U.S. and China.

The negotiations -- expected to be held this month or next -- will include North and South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters

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