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US Officials Say They're Willing to Talk to North Korea - 2003-01-07

The United States says it is willing to talk to North Korea about the on-going crisis over its nuclear actions, but is not willing to make concessions or offer quid pro quos to persuade it to give up its nuclear program.

Tuesday's statement followed a three-way meeting of senior U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats in Washington. The Bush administration had previously called for a roll-back of recent steps by North Korea to revive its nuclear program before it would to talk to Pyongyang.

But it now says it is willing to enter into an early dialogue, at least on the issue how North Korea can get back into compliance with its obligations.

The overture came in a joint statement at the close of the U.S.-South Korea-Japan consultations here, and was reiterated at a briefing by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher:

"The first thing is that they have to indicate that they're willing to abandon these nuclear programs, to end these nuclear programs in a visible and verifiable manner," he said. "And we would be prepared to talk to them about that. And then as things proceed, we'll see what else that might lead to. But I have to stress, we're willing to have a dialogue. We're not willing to pay again for agreements and obligations that have been reached already."

The three parties reaffirmed their determination to pursue a peaceful solution of the issue, with the U.S. delegation reiterating President Bush's statement that the United States poses no threat to, and has no intention of invading, North Korea.

In Chicago Tuesday, Mr. Bush called North Korea's nuclear actions an attempt "to defy the world," but he said working with countries in the region, diplomacy will work.

The trilateral meeting was a further effort by the Bush administration to forge a common stand with regional allies on North Korea's actions, especially with South Korea where there has been criticism that the U.S. approach to Pyongyang has been unduly harsh.

While some South Korean officials had mooted trying to mediate between Washington and Pyongyang an idea the Bush administration opposed there was no mention of mediation in the joint statement and spokesman Boucher stressed the commonality of views among the three allies:

"I think you've seen statements from the South Koreans themselves that they didn't come here to offer to mediate," he said. "If you read the statement, you'll see it's 'the three delegations, the three delegations, the three delegations.' I think it's abundantly clear that the three of us are together, and in fact we are together with the rest of the international community in addressing these issues, and addressing the elements that need to be brought together, that can be brought together to resolve this peacefully. It's not really a question of mediation."

The three delegations were headed by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-Shik and senior Japanese foreign minister official Mitoji Yabunaka.

In an unusual move, they concluded their talks here by calling in Washington-based diplomats from China, Russia, the European Union, Australia and Canada for a joint meeting.

The diplomacy on North Korea continues later in the week with a Washington visit by South Korea's national security adviser Kim Sung-Joon.

Assistant Secretary of State Kelly, the Bush administration's "point man" on North Korea, begins a trip to the region this coming weekend that will include stops in Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing.