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Powell Discusses N. Korea  with S. Korea's FM - 2002-02-01

President Bush says his administration remains open to dialogue with North Korea despite his sharp criticism of Pyongyang in his State of the Union address earlier this week. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed the U.S. approach to the North in a New York meeting Friday with South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-Soo.

The president says he would be "more than happy" to resume a high-level dialogue with North Korea provided that the authorities in Pyongyang relax their military posture, halt arms exports and declare their peaceful intentions on the Peninsula.

Mr. Bush drew an angry response from North Korea and expressions of concern from U.S. allies in the region Tuesday when, in his State of the Union message to Congress, he listed North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, in what he termed an "axis of evil" because of links to terrorism and efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction.

But in a talk with reporters as he welcomed Jordan's King Abdullah to the White House, the president said he had not abandoned efforts of pursuing a peaceful dialogue with Iran and with North Korea provided they are attentive to U.S. concerns and make the right decisions.

"I certainly hope that North Korea, for example, listens to what we suggested; and that is, they pull back some conventional weaponry, to make a clear declaration of their peaceful intentions on the peninsula, and that they not export weapons," said Mr. Bush. "We would be more than happy to enter a dialogue with them if that would be the case."

Mr. Bush said North Korea and the others cited in his address are now "on notice" that the United States, and other countries that respect the rule of law, take their weapons proliferation efforts "very seriously."

In New York meanwhile, Secretary of State Colin Powell was discussing implications of the speech with his South Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

State Department officials said he told Foreign Minister Han Seung-Soo the administration remains committed to having serious discussions with North Korea at any time and place without preconditions.

They also said the United States continues to support South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung's overture to the North, though reiterating the administration view that Pyongyang's response to President Kim's "Sunshine Policy" has been less than hoped for.

The Secretary of State told Mr. Han President Bush looks forward to his visit to Seoul later this month and talks with President Kim expected to be dominated by the approach to North Korea and related security issues.

U.S. contacts with North Korea stalled after President Bush took office a year ago and began a policy review. Diplomats of the two sides have had working-level meetings in New York since then.

But there have been no high-profile exchanges like former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to Pyongyang near the end of the Clinton administration.

Ms. Albright, in a television interview Friday, said President Bush had made a "big mistake" by lumping North Korea with Iraq and Iran in his address, because of the differences between those countries.

She also said it was a mistake to walk away from the potential agreement halting North Korean missile technology exports that she said was within reach when President Clinton left office.