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South Korea: Fall of Iraq Government May Have Prompted North Korean Change on Nuclear Talks - 2003-04-14

South Korean officials say the fall of Iraq's Saddam Hussein might have prompted North Korea to shift its position regarding talks about its nuclear programs.

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun says that North Korea's latest statement shows it is ready to accept international dialogue to resolve the nuclear dispute. Mr. Roh says he feels confident that the matter now can be solved peacefully.

North Korea indicated Saturday it might take part in multilateral talks to resolve the standoff, if it saw a change in U.S. attitude. Previously, Pyongyang had said it would talk only with Washington.

Ra Jong-Yil, Mr. Roh's national security advisor, says the U.S. military campaign in Iraq may have prompted Pyongyang's change of attitude. North Korea may feel more threatened by the United States, which led an attack on Iraq to force it to give up suspected weapons of mass destruction.

The United States said last year that Pyongyang had admitted having an illegal nuclear-weapons program.

That announcement prompted North Korea to withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and restart idled nuclear facilities.

Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan told the U.S. ambassador in South Korea that Seoul would like Washington and Pyongyang to start talks as quickly as possible.

In Japan, Deputy Foreign Minister Hitoshi Tanaka said Tokyo welcomes using any channels that could resolve the dispute. "Our objective is to come to a solid peaceful resolution on the Korean Peninsula through public, through private, through public diplomacy, through private diplomacy," he said. "We shall work very hard for this objective. I am not optimistic, but I am not too pessimistic. It takes time, unfortunately."

The U.S. statements about North Korea's weapons program created international fears that Pyongyang might sell nuclear weapons or use them if it felt threatened. North Korea has added to those concerns by issuing a stream of rhetoric threatening war. Pyongyang also says that the United States plans to attack North Korea, an accusation Washington denies. Washington says it wants a peaceful solution to the dispute, but has not ruled out a military option.