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US, N.Korea Meet, But No Agreement Reached on Six-Party Talks

North Korean and U.S. officials met this week to discuss the nuclear standoff on the Korean Peninsula. It appears they came no closer to resuming multilateral talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

North Korea says meetings between its top U.N. representative and U.S. officials took place in New York on Tuesday and Friday.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry Saturday said the meetings only reinforced its determination not to rejoin multiparty nuclear disarmament talks until Washington drops what Pyongyang calls a "hostile policy."

A spokesman for the ministry said North Korea would wait until President Bush's second-term administration is fully formed before considering further meetings with U.S. officials.

Since last year there have been three rounds of largely inconclusive talks involving the United States, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. Pyongyang boycotted a fourth round scheduled for last September. The talks are aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said this week that Washington is guardedly optimistic a new round of talks is still possible.

"Our whole emphasis is to get talks started again maybe, maybe some time in December, certainly in January," he said. "But the answer to that question doesn't lie in Washington, it lies in Pyongyang."

In the past week there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at resuming the talks. A senior Chinese envoy went to Pyongyang to discuss the standoff with North Korean officials.

And China's Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo reviewed the nuclear crisis with outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday, the same day South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck flew to Washington for meetings.

Both North Korea and the United States are under pressure to back away from their positions but neither side appears willing to make the first concession.

Pyongyang wants Washington to provide aid and security guarantees in exchange for a nuclear freeze. But Washington insists North Korea must dismantle its nuclear facilities before economic aid or security pledges can be discussed.

Richard Bush, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute for Northeast Asian Policy Studies, says President Bush's options are now fairly limited.

He says the president could change course, and increase bilateral contact with Pyongyang as part of the six-nation talks, and offer explicit benefits to North Korea in exchange for disarmament.

"One of the advantages of doing that is that it enhances our relations with the other parties involved," Mr. Bush said. " think China and South Korea have signaled they would like more flexibility on our part, and presenting a comprehensive proposal would be a good demonstration of our seriousness to the parties that matter."

Another option would be to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea. But Mr. Bush says that can not work unless China and South Korea, which supply a great deal of North Korea's imported fuel, food and other aid, are convinced the United States has exhausted other avenues.