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Presidents Bush, Putin to Work for Nuclear-Free Korean Peninsula

President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday discussed efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says President Bush and President Putin both agreed on the importance of working together to get a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula.

Mr. Fleischer says North Korea's decision to restart its main nuclear reactor is "troublesome behavior" that he says further isolates Pyongygang.

The Bush administration says North Korea could use the facility to help build nuclear weapons. North Korea says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only and the reactor was restarted to generate badly needed electricity.

Japan and South Korea are urging President Bush not to overreact to the latest North Korean move. China and Russia Thursday issued a joint statement urging Washington to open direct talks with Pyongyang, saying constructive dialogue could go a long way toward resolving the dispute.

White House National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says the Bush administration will not agree to one-on-one talks because that would reward what she calls North Korea's hopes of "blackmailing" Washington into paying-off Pyongyang to destroy its weapons.

"The North Koreans would like nothing better than to have the United States to have to come to the North Koreans and to do this in a bilateral fashion, and to make this a crisis between the United States and North Korea," she said. "That would achieve the goal that Kim Jong-Il has of being rewarded for the blackmail in which he is now engaging."

In an interview with VOA this week, Ms. Rice said the Bush administration believes the best approach is still a common effort with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea because, she says, all the world has a "great deal at stake."

"They have not just a tremendous responsibility to deal with this but a tremendous interest in doing so. Because a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula is in the interest of everyone," Ms. Rice said. "It is not just the responsibility of the United States to make certain that the Korean Peninsula is nuclear-free."

North Korea says the Bush administration's interest in diplomacy is a "smokescreen," meant to entice Pyongyang to drop its guard, while Washington readies an invasion. U.S. defense officials deny they have any plans to attack but they say they are considering reinforcing U.S. troops in the Pacific as a warning to North Korea.