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Powell: US Wants Dialogue with N. Korea - 2002-02-13

Secretary of State Colin Powell says President Bush will make an unconditional offer of U.S. dialogue with North Korea next week when he visits South Korea. The gesture would be aimed at easing concerns in Seoul about Mr. Bush's depiction of the communist government in the North as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran.

Senior officials in Seoul who have been trying to lure North Korea out of its self-imposed isolation -- were reported to have been surprised and troubled by Mr. Bush's tough rhetoric about the North Korean government.

But in an appearance before the Senate Budget Committee Tuesday, Secretary Powell said that when he visits Seoul next week, the President will show his support for that policy of engagement, and make his own no-strings-attached overture to Pyongyang for dialogue. "We are ready to talk to the North Koreans. We are ready for dialogue, anytime, any place, anywhere with no preconditions," says Mr. Powell. "I repeat that again this morning as the President will next week in Korea. And we hope the North Koreans will take us up on it. We want dialogue. But at the same time we will not deny the obvious truth about the nature of that regime."

In his January 29 speech to Congress, President Bush said North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction while starving its own people.

Mr. Powell told Senators the administration will "not shrink" from pointing out the nature of the Pyongyang government and activities by it he said are "not in the interest of the civilized world." But he also said the administration continues to support the 1994 framework agreement with Pyongyang that froze its nuclear program in exchange for oil supplies, and noted that the United States is and will continue to be the number-one supplier of food aid to the North.

He said the President will make clear in Seoul his hope that North Koreans will some day enjoy the kind of life that the people in the South do, and that a way can be found, as he put it, "for those two nations to again be one people."

Mr. Powell -- who was in the Senate to defend the administration budget for the coming year -- said it is not a war budget despite a proposed defense spending increase and said there is no plan currently before the President to make war against the countries he listed among the "axis of evil."