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US Officials Optimistic on Diplomatic Solution to N. Korea Nuclear Crisis - 2003-09-07

Senior U.S. officials say they are optimistic the international crisis sparked by North Korea's nuclear-weapons program can be solved diplomatically. The comments follow news reports that the United States is slightly softening its bargaining stance with the North Koreans.

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told the television program Fox News Sunday the United States is glad other countries are also involved in seeking a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue. "I believe we have got the best chance that we could possibly have, given the six-party format, given the fact that you have got all the relevant states there, and particularly China there, with whom the North Koreans have a lot of interest," she said. "I think you have got the best chance now to get an enduring strategy."

In Beijing late last month, China hosted diplomats from North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and the United States for meetings to discuss North Korea's nuclear crisis.

Since then, Pyongyang has repeated its position that it needs nuclear weapons to protect against U.S. military aggression. This North Korean charge was rejected by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who spoke on NBC-TV's Meet the Press. "Our policy right now is not to invade [North Korea] or to overthrow it," he said. "But right now, our policy is the de-nuclearization of the [Korean] peninsula."

It is not just the idea of a nuclear weapons-armed North Korea that sparks international concern. Mr. Powell said the agenda also includes issues like Pyonyang's involvement in drug trafficking and counterfeit currency. "These criminal activities that it participates in, as well as a large army it maintains at the expense of taking care of its people, and its proliferation of missiles and other technologies that could be used to develop weapons of mass destruction," he said.

North Korea celebrates the 55th anniversary of the founding of its communist government Tuesday. There has been widespread speculation that Pyongyang might choose its national day to test-fire a missile or possibly conduct a nuclear-weapons test.

Ms. Rice said she hopes North Korea keeps in mind the desire of all six parties at the Beijing talks for a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. She added the warning that anything Pyongyang does to escalate the situation will only deepen North Korea's isolation.

Meanwhile, a senior American official has indicated a shift in the previous U.S. negotiating stance, under which North Korea would have had to completely dismantle its nuclear programs before it could expect concessions from the United States. Instead, American negotiators at the Beijing talks proposed a range of U.S. steps to aid the starving North Korea, as long as Pyongyang is moving toward abandoning its nuclear programs at the same time.