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Bush Optimistic About North Korea's Acceptance to Participate in Multilateral Talks - 2003-08-01

President Bush says he is optimistic that North Korea's acceptance of multilateral talks will lead to the dismantling of its nuclear weapons program. White House officials say they will not meet separately with North Korea on the sidelines of those talks which could begin next month in China.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan says there will be no private talks with Pyongyang. He says North Korean officials can certainly speak directly to their U.S. counterparts within the multilateral setting, but he denied North Korea news agency reports that the Bush administration has agreed to one-on-one talks.

President Bush refused bilateral negotiations because he says North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has lied to previous U.S. administrations. He says Pyongyang's acceptance of six-way talks with the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia is "good progress" toward a regional solution to the crisis.

"We fully understand the past," the president said. "We are hopeful, however, that Mr. Kim Jong Il, because he is hearing other voices, will make the decision to totally dismantle his nuclear weapons program. That he will allow there to be complete transparency and verifiability. And we are optimistic that that can happen."

Mr. Bush thanked Chinese leader Hu Jintao for helping to arrange the multilateral talks and said he is "upbeat" that North Korea has agreed to allow its neighbors to take part in negotiations over ending the country's nuclear weapons program.

"The discussions will be all aimed at convincing Mr. Kim Jong Il to change his attitude about nuclear weaponry," he explained. "In the past, it was the lone voice of the United States speaking clearly about this. Now we will have other parties who have got a vested interest in peace in the Korean peninsula."

North Korea's acceptance of multilateral talks reverses nine months of holding out for a one-on-one meeting with the United States. North Korea was also demanding a non-aggression pact with Washington.

White House spokesman McClellan says no such agreement is being considered because he says the president will not reward North Korea for failing to live up to its international obligations on nuclear weapons.

Mr. McClellan says the real work begins once this multilateral process is established as he says North Korea must agree to irreversibly dismantle its nuclear weapons program.