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US Reconsiders Talks with North Korea - 2002-07-02


The Bush administration says it will review its overture to North Korea for high-level talks in light of Saturday's clash between North and South Korean naval vessels in the Yellow Sea. The United States says it supports South Korea's contention that the North Koreans provoked the clash, which left four South Korean sailors dead.

Officials here say they're not scrapping the idea of dialogue with Pyongyang over the incident. But they say North Korea's explanation of the clash will be a factor in whether a senior U.S. diplomat goes to Pyongyang to reopen high-level talks for the first time in a year-and-a-half.

The Bush administration late last week offered to send Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to North Korea, and was awaiting a reply when the naval incident occurred.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said North Korea's response in both areas will determine if the Kelly mission goes forward. "Obviously," he said, "we're very concerned about this incident, about the armed provocation. We've also made proposals for further talks. And as I said, once we hear from them, we'll consider it all together."

In comments Monday to the French news agency AFP, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Bush administration is examining the situation in the aftermath of naval incident, and said he could not say if the talks were either on, in jeopardy, or off.

The administration is understood to have proposed, at a working-level meeting with North Korean officials in New York last week, to send Mr. Kelly to Pyongyang sometime around the middle of this month.

Though President Bush in January listed North Korea with Iran and Iraq as part of an "axis of evil," he said later in South Korea he remained open to dialogue with Pyongyang on issues of concern to both sides.

In a policy speech last month, Secretary Powell said the United States would seek in those talks an end to North Korean missile exports, less-threatening military deployments by Pyongyang along the border with South Korea, more transparency in the distribution of food aid in North Korea and compliance by that country with international nuclear safeguards.

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