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US Awaits North Korean Response to Re-Starting Dialogue - 2002-06-28

The State Department is signaling progress in efforts to convene the first high-level U.S. talks with North Korea since President Bush took office last year. The two sides held another working meeting in New York Thursday to discuss arrangements for the dialogue.

U.S. diplomats have held several meetings in recent months with officials of North Korea's mission to the United Nations. And officials here say they're now awaiting a response from Pyongyang to a specific U.S. proposal on a date and venue for re-starting a political dialogue that's been frozen since the end of the Clinton administration.

At a briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called Thursday's meeting "constructive" and said the Bush administration is ready to advance the contacts to a higher-level.

"We want to move this process forward," he said. "We have a number of areas that we wish to discuss with North Korea, where we want to achieve some progress. The president has proposed a comprehensive dialogue to accomplish this, and that's what we've been discussing."

In a policy address earlier this month, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the United States is prepared to move its relations with Pyongyang "toward normalcy" but that progress depends on, among other things, an end to North Korean exports of missiles and related technology.

He also said the United States would press for a less-threatening conventional military deployments by Pyongyang on the Korean peninsula, more transparency in the distribution of international food aid in the North, and full compliance by North Korea with international nuclear safeguards.

Although President Bush listed North Korea as part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq in his State of the Union message in January, he said a few weeks later in South Korea that the United States was open to dialogue with Pyongyang on all issues of concern to both sides.

North Korea accepted the overture in late April and said it would welcome a visit by a U.S. emissary. The Bush administration is understood to have proposed, at Thursday's meeting, that a senior U.S. diplomat go to Pyongyang in mid-July.