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US Withdraws Offer of Talks with N. Korea - 2002-07-02

The United States has rescinded an offer to send a senior envoy to North Korea next week to resume high-level security talks after a year-and-a-half of stalemate. The U.S. decision was prompted by the North-South Korean naval clash last Saturday and the lack of a North Korean response to the American overture.

The State Department insists the Bush administration had not abandoned its interest in engaging the North Koreans in dialogue. But it says it decided to withdraw a proposal to start the talks in Pyongyang on July 10 after nearly a week had passed without a reply to the offer, which had been made to North Korean officials in New York on June 25.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher also said Saturday's naval incident between North and South Korean forces was a factor in the decision.

At a news briefing, he said the clash, described as the most serious of its kind in several years, had created an "unacceptable atmosphere" for the discussions and that the United States looks to the North Koreans for an explanation.

"Obviously what they do with regard to the incident, which we viewed as an armed provocation, will have some bearing on how we view these situations," said Mr. Boucher. "But as I said, we took this offer off the table, this proposal off the table, because in fact they had failed to respond in a timely manner and that made it impossible to do the trip the way we'd originally proposed it. So we remain committed to the policy of having serious discussions with the North Koreans. But we'll just have to look, as things evolve, at any questions of rescheduling."

The United States is supporting South Korea's assertion that the North Korea started the clash and spokesman Boucher dismissed as "spurious" a charge by a North Korean spokesman that the United States had "orchestrated" the clash in an effort to block Korean reconciliation.

U.S.-North Korean dialogue came to a virtual halt after former President Bill Clinton left office early last year and the incoming Bush administration began a review of the relationship.

Concerns about Pyongyang's weapons programs prompted President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union address in January, to include North Korea along with Iran and Iraq in what he termed an "axis of evil."

But Mr. Bush said a month later in Seoul the United States was willing to reopen dialogue with North Korea, and the two sides held several meetings in New York on arrangements for talks.

Under the now-withdrawn U.S. offer, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs James Kelly would have gone to Pyongyang next Wednesday for three days of meetings.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said last month the United States wanted to discuss North Korean missile exports, its conventional force deployments, management of food aid and compliance with international nuclear safeguards.