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Ball in North Korea's Court, Says Bush Administration - 2003-01-08

The Bush administration says it is up to North Korea to take the next step if it wants dialogue with the United States on dismantling its nuclear weapons program. Top U.S. diplomats, meanwhile, are preparing for missions to Asia to coordinate policy on Pyongyang's nuclear actions.

Officials here said the administration is still awaiting a North Korean response to the overture for talks, which came in a joint statement by senior U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats as they completed two days of consultations in Washington on Tuesday.

Senior U.S. officials had previously insisted there was nothing to talk about with the North until it rolled back its recent moves to restore its nuclear weapons program.

The revised formulation in the joint statement welcomed talks between the United States and North Korea on how Pyongyang can "meet its obligations to the international community."

Briefing reporters at the White House Wednesday, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said this means there will be no inducements offered to North Korea for returning to compliance with its existing nuclear agreements.

"I can't predict every shake and turn of a conversation that has not yet been had. But what I am saying is that it will not be a negotiation. There will be no inducements. The purpose would be, principally, to make sure that North Korea does what it is supposed to do to come back into international compliance as they have been called on to do not only by the United States, Japan, South Korea and the neighbors who are closest, but also by the IAEA which represents multiples of nations around the world including Cuba and Iran, all of whom have called on North Korea to come back into compliance," Mr. Fleischer said.

The State Department said the three-way statement was hand-delivered to North Korea's mission at the United Nations, which in the past has provided a channel for working-level communication between Pyongyang and Washington.

Only hours after the offer for talks was made, North Korea's official news agency issued a statement accusing the United States of "working hard" to push the Korean peninsula toward a nuclear war.

But officials here said they did not consider the North Korean commentary a reply to the U.S. overture, and that it usually takes North Korean leadership days to respond to a political initiative of importance.

Meanwhile, allied consultations over the nuclear issue continued, with South Korean presidential envoy Yim Sung-Joon meeting White House National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Assistant Secertary of State for East Asian Affairs James Kelly preparing to leave Saturday on a trip to the region.

Mr. Kelly, the State Department's "point man" for North Korea, is to be in Seoul from Sunday to Tuesday to meet senior South Korean officials including president-elect Roh Moo-hyun.

He goes on from South Korea to China, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan, and will be followed to the region later this month by the administration's chief arms-control official, Undersecretary of State John Bolton.