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US Envoy Repeats Offer for Talks with N. Korea - 2003-01-13

Top U.S. envoy, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, has repeated an offer to talk with North Korea about the growing nuclear dispute - but says that any inducements, such as energy help, would only come after the issue is resolved. Mr. Kelly is in South Korea on the latest diplomatic mission to find a solution to the stand-off with the communist nation. Mr. Kelly, says he is consulting with Asian governments on how to get talks with North Korea started.

Speaking to reporters in Seoul, after meeting with South Korean President-Elect Roh Moo-hyun, Mr. Kelly repeated Washington's new willingness to holds discussions with Pyongyang. "We are, of course, willing to talk to North Korea about their response to the international community, particularly with respect to elimination of nuclear weapons," he said. But he said he was very disappointed that North Korean diplomats had nothing new to offer when they met unofficially with former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, late last week.

North Korea, while calling for a diplomatic solution, has stepped up provocative actions and heated rhetoric in the last week, while denying it admitted having nuclear weapons. It pulled out of the International Nuclear-Nonproliferation Treaty, continues working on re-opening a nuclear facility capable of producing weapons, and threatened to re-start missile tests.

Since the crisis erupted in October with U.S. disclosures that the North had an illegal nuclear weapons program, U.S. allies agreed to suspend fuel shipments to pressure the impoverished North, but have since stressed diplomacy as the only way to resolve the issue.

While Mr. Kelly says Washington will talk, it will not bargain to get North Korea to keep it international commitments. "Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the U.S., with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area," he said.

North Korea says it has to begin reactivating its Yongbyon nuclear complex for energy because the fuel shipments have been stopped.

Bush administration officials have previously said they would not reward North Korea for giving up its nuclear programs, saying aid and better relations must come after it dismantles them. Mr. Kelly will next go to China, Singapore, Indonesia and Japan.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi warned Sunday against North Korea's international isolation. At the end of a four-day visit to Russia, he called for the North's integration into the global community.