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US, South Korea Urge Pyongyang to Return to 6-Party Talks

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon Monday urged North Korea to return to the Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on its nuclear program. But U.S. officials said there should be no incentives offered to lure Pyongyang back to the bargaining table, after it said last week it possessed nuclear weapons.

Ms. Rice and her South Korean counterpart say they remain committed to a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the North Korean nuclear program through the six-party talks, though the United States is telling other participants to refrain from offering Pyongyang incentives to get it to return to the negotiating table.

The secretary and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban met for more than an hour here in a meeting that had been scheduled before North Korea's announcement last Thursday that it had nuclear weapons and was suspending its role in the talks.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher reiterated that the United States has no hostile intent with regard to North Korea, and that it would step up diplomatic contacts with other parties to stalled talks to see what can be done to get Pyongyang to return.

But he said the North Korean announcement should not change the basic strategy that Pyongyang should not be able to derive benefits from the various parties, until it agrees to abandon its nuclear program.

"This is not the moment to start changing the playbook, as you might say, that the North Koreans shouldn't be rewarded for causing difficulties in the reconvening of talks," he said. "Remember, they had originally promised to come back to the talks in September, and that this continued delay by North Korea should not be the reason to offer them further rewards. It remains fundamental, though, that the talks are the place to solve the issues, and we remain committed to that."

At the six-party talks, which have not convened since last June, the United States offered to be part of multilateral guarantees for North Korea's security, if it verifiably and irreversibly ended its weapons program. The Bush administration has ruled out benefits to North Korea, until disarmament was completed, but said it did not object to other parties providing aid as the process unfolded.

In comments to reporters after his meeting with Secretary Rice, Foreign Minister Ban said they agreed that North Korea should make a strategic decision to return to the talks and disarm, realizing that a much better future awaits, it if it does so. He said North Korea should resume the talks, without pre-conditions, and said he expects that to happen.

"With these increased and intensified diplomatic efforts, I am confident that, in the end, the North Koreans will come back to the dialogue table," said Mr. Ban. "I think that is to their benefit, if they return to the dialogue table, and commit themselves to abandon their nuclear weapons development program, and get international development assistance, as well as security assurances, which they need."

Secretary Rice also discussed the North Korean nuclear issue Saturday in a telephone discussion with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, and consultations will continue Saturday, when Ms. Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld meet jointly with the Japanese foreign and defense ministers.

The New York Times reported Monday, the Bush administration would supplement diplomatic pressure on North Korea with a stepped up effort to cut off income the Pyongyang government derives illicitly from a variety of activities, including weapons proliferation, counterfeiting and drug-trafficking.

Asked about the report, spokesman Boucher said such efforts have long been under way, and that he was unaware of any new emphasis on it. He also said the Bush administration has no intention of using humanitarian aid to North Korea as a political tool on the nuclear issue. The United States is the single-largest contributor of food aid to North Korea through the U.N.'s World Food Program.