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US Door Remains Open to Dialogue with Iran, North Korea - 2002-02-01

A U.S. official says the door remains open to dialogue with North Korea and Iran, two of the nations cited by President Bush in his State of the Union address as countries that "pose a grave and growing danger." The official says, however, the door will not remain open indefinitely.

State Department official Philip Reeker said nothing has changed in recent days in the U.S. view of Iraq, Iran and North Korea, three nations mentioned by President Bush as forming an "axis of evil" in his address to Congress. The remark has been criticized as belligerent by officials of the three nations, and questioned by some U.S. allies.

Clarifying the comment, the White House said Wednesday President Bush did not intend to signal imminent military action against the three countries.

Mr. Bush accused Iran of developing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terror, and he said North Korea possesses missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

The State Department's Philip Reeker said the United States remains open to dialogue with the two countries, but the President was saying that the offer of dialogue is not open-ended. "We've made quite clear that we're willing to sit down with North Korea, and with Iran, to have a serious discussion to resolve our concerns, to raise topics between the two countries," he said. "We've made quite clear that we'll do that without preconditions, wherever, whenever. We have not gotten responses to that, and I think part of the President's message was to say, hey, we are not going to just sit around forever and wait for that. Our offer of dialogue and discussion remains on the table."

In the State of the Union address, President Bush accused Iraq of supporting terrorists and plotting to develop anthrax, nerve gas and nuclear weapons. He also said Iraq has defied United Nations resolutions for weapons inspections. The State Department official says the next move is up to Iraq, which he says must open the door to United Nations inspectors. "With Iraq we are insisting, and the whole world should be insisting, that they comply with their obligations under the U.N. Security Council resolutions," he said. "These are things Iraq agreed to as part of the cease-fire agreement of the Gulf War."

The official briefed a group of international reporters in Los Angeles Thursday, as part of the State Department's outreach known as public diplomacy, which aims to win support for U.S. policies.

The official notes that the United States has cooperated with Iran, which is one of a group of nations that border Afghanistan that were involved in discussions on that country's future. But U.S. officials have expressed anger over a major arms shipment to Palestinians, which Israel intercepted earlier this month. The shipment originated in Iran, and the United States suspects the involvement of Iranian officials.

Regarding North Korea, Mr. Reeker says the United States has renewed efforts to engage the reclusive regime in dialogue, following a six-month period of re-evaluation after President Bush took office last year.

Mr. Bush has said he will do what is necessary to keep the three nations from threatening the United States or its allies. The State Department official says the methods established last year for the war on terrorism apply in this effort as well, including diplomatic pressure, the seizure of assets, sharing intelligence with allies, and the use of force, when it is necessary.