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Seoul Says Pyongyang Should Return to Nuclear Disarmament Talks, Following Bush Speech

South Korea is reacting positively to President Bush's State of the Union Address, calling it a good step toward restarting talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs. South Koreans are noticing what was not said, as much as what was said.

In his annual State of the Union Address, President Bush used the word "Korea" just once:

"We are working closely with governments in Asia to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions," he said.

Yoo Jae-gon is a member of the ruling Uri party in the South Korean National Assembly. He said Thursday Mr. Bush's speech sends an encouraging message to Pyongyang.

"I was sort of relieved. I think North Korea got a message Bush is trying to do more diplomatically than four years ago," he said.

The South Korean government has urged Washington to moderate its approach to North Korea ever since President Bush described the country as part of an "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union Address. Thursday, the South Korean foreign ministry said this year's speech shows that Washington is determined to peacefully negotiate an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

Now, the ministry said, it is time for North Korea to return to multilateral talks on the issue.

The United States and North Korea have joined Russia, South Korea, Japan and China in three rounds of unsuccessful nuclear talks.

A fourth round has been delayed because North Korea has refused to attend, blaming what it calls a "hostile attitude" by the United States.

Ed Reed, an analyst with the Asia Foundation in Seoul, says Mr. Bush's words help show he is committed to finding a peaceful resolution to the nuclear issue.

"He mentions North Korea in the context of a multilateral approach to encourage them to come to an agreement," he said, "and separated them - North Korea - from the much more aggressive talk regarding problem states in the Middle East."

North Korea has not yet reacted publicly to the State of the Union Address.

Pyongyang had signaled that this year's State of the Union address would strongly influence its decision on the nuclear talks.

Given the measured tone of Mr. Bush's speech, and recent assurances by U.S. officials that Washington wants talks, Pyongyang may find it difficult to delay. Many experts on North Korea have said its communist leadership stalled talks in hope that Mr. Bush would lose last year's election. After he was re-elected, Pyongyang said talks could not resume until the president had established his new foreign policy team, then delayed again to hear the State of the Union address.

Now it appears Pyongyang will be expected to make good on its previous stated commitment to the talks.