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Officials Say US Prepared to Hold Further Multilateral Talks With N. Korea - 2003-05-14

As President Bush prepared to meet South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was telling reporters the United States was prepared to hold further multilateral talks with North Korea on that country's nuclear program. But she reiterated the U.S. administration will not give in to "blackmail" by Pyongyang.

Meeting reporters at Washington's Foreign Press Center, Ms. Rice reiterated the administration's view that last month's three-way talks with North Korea and China in Beijing has been "useful" if only in making clear that the United States and China are in "common cause" in seeking a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

But she said such talks will only be effective and fruitful if they are expanded to include other concerned countries including South Korea, Japan and possibly also Russia and others. And she also made clear that success will require a change in attitude on the part of Pyongyang.

"If there are to be further talks though, the attitude ought to be more constructive. The North Koreans used the trilateral talks to posture and to threaten, and to try and blackmail. That is not the spirit in which we would expect to conduct any further talks. But we are not fearful of talks, and if we believe that they're useful at some point in time, we'd be more than willing to re-enter them."

Ms. Rice said the Bush administration is committed to finding a peaceful solution to the nuclear crisis with Pyongyang, which erupted last October with North Korea's acknowledgment that it had a covert nuclear enrichment program in violation of several agreements.

She pointedly reaffirmed that President Bush has taken no option off the table in dealing with the situation but said preemption and the use of force have never been the administration's first course of action.

"Preemption says only that you will not allow a threat necessarily to hit you, before you hit it," she said. "It has never been the first option for the United States. This is after other things have been tried. We do believe that this can be resolved peacefully. But that is going to require everybody to be firm and to be strong and not to allow the North Koreans to blackmail us. It is going to require that the North Korean's understand that their only way into the international system is by peaceful means."

Ms. Rice expressed puzzlement as to why North Korea allowed its nuclear weapons ambitions to disrupt what had been a promising international situation for it last year, one that included dialogue with South Korea, visits to Pyongyang by Russian and Japanese leaders, and a meeting between its foreign minister and Secretary of State Powell in Brunei last July.

The Bush administration at the time was preparing what was termed a "bold approach" of increased aid and recognition for North Korea. Officials say the United States is prepared to revive the initiative, but only if North Korea verifiably ends its nuclear weapons program.