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US Must Engage Allies over North Korea, Say Senior Senators

Two key U.S. senators have said that, with concern mounting about North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the Bush administration must engage its allies in the region. The call follows confirmation by North Korea that it has disabled surveillance devices at an old nuclear reactor.

North Korea's announcement drew swift reaction from the international community. Washington called on Pyongyang not to restart its frozen nuclear facilities. The International Atomic Energy Agency and South Korea urged the North to replace the U.N. surveillance equipment.

The power plant had been closed under a 1994 agreement with the United States to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

The incoming chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Senator Richard Lugar, said Washington must actively engage its allies in the region. "We cannot take an attitude, I believe, in which we just simply say, 'they are wrong,'" he said, referring to the North Koreans. "We're all going to have to talk."

Appearing on the television program Fox News Sunday, Mr. Lugar also said, President George W. Bush must find out where South Korea's newly elected president stands.

Mr. Bush last week telephoned South Korea's president-elect, Roh Moo-hyun, and invited him to the White House for a get-acquainted session. Mr. Roh has accepted, but no date has been set.

During his campaign, Mr. Roh criticized President Bush's confrontational policy toward North Korea. Since his election, it appears Mr. Roh has softened his stance. U.S. and South Korean officials say, during their telephone conversation, Mr. Bush and Mr. Roh agreed to work closely for peace on the Korean peninsula.

Also appearing with Senator Lugar was the outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Joe Biden, who agreed it is important to keep the lines of communication open.

"I think the president is on the right path. This is a greater danger immediately to U.S. interests at this very moment, in my view, than Saddam Hussein is," Mr. Biden said.

The Bush administration has also been working with China, Russia and Japan on finding a common approach to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.