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Bush, S.Korea urge early talks on N.Korea crisis
( 2003-10-21 01:25) (Agencies)

US President George W. Bush, adopting a policy shift to re-energise talks with North Korea, called with his South Korean counterpart on Monday for a new round just as Pyongyang test-fired a short-range missile.

A top aide to Bush, however, cautioned that consultations were just beginning and it would take some time to come up with security guarantees to offer North Korea in exchange for it abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun called for a fresh round of six-party talks with Pyongyang on its nuclear programme at an early date and urged reclusive North Korea to refrain from any action that could exacerbate the crisis.

"We're making good progress on peacefully solving the issue with North Korea," Bush said before meeting Roh on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bangkok.

Within hours, North Korea fired a surface-to-ship missile in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan in what South Korea said appeared to be part of military exercises by the isolated communist country.

"We do not take this as a positive attitude on the part of North Korea," said a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman in Bangkok.

Bush has ruled out the formal non-aggression pact that North Korea wants but has said the United States was exploring a possible compromise with its allies in the talks, which include China, South Korea, Russia and Japan. North Korea is the only participant not at APEC.

However, officials had no details of possible assurances and said none had been outlined by Bush in any meetings.

South Korea's Roh has wanted the United States to make a gesture to jumpstart the talks on the nuclear crisis that erupted a year ago when the United States said North Korea had admitted to developing atomic weapons.

"The two Presidents shared the view that it is desirable to hold the next round of the talks at an early date and to make concrete progress," they said in a statement after their meeting.


The first round of six-party talks was held in Beijing in August but ended inconclusively and officials say China is anxious to hold another round before the end of the year.

Mid-November is seen as a target period.

"The two Presidents also urged North Korea to respond positively to the other parties' diplomatic efforts and to refrain from any action which would exacerbate the situation," the US-South Korean statement said.

North Korea has been reluctant to commit itself to new talks and has issued a series of increasingly inflammatory statements, including a threat to prove it possesses a "nuclear deterrent".

Besides Roh, Bush has discussed North Korea with the leaders of Japan and China and his national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Bush would also raise the issue with Russia.

Officials of the five countries were still haggling over the details of a possible separate summit communique on North Korea that was likely to include a call that the Korean peninsula be free of nuclear weapons.

That would fall short of the communique issued at APEC last year that contained a specific demand to North Korea to drop its nuclear ambitions.

Senior Bush administration officials said North Korea could get some of what it is seeking under this arrangement before its nuclear programme is completely dismantled, so long as it makes "verifiable progress" toward meeting US demands.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell was consulting his counterparts from China, Japan, Russia and South Korea on what form the security assurances should take. One possibility was a simple written statement signed by all six parties.

"We want to discuss this with our partners. We are not going to go in all guns blazing and say 'take it or leave it, this is it'," Rice said, adding that the key would be a North Korean commitment to implement verifiable actions.

Bush, whose war with Iraq has led to a deadly postwar period of daily attacks on US troops even while progress is being made to bring the country back to life, has been pursuing a diplomatic approach to North Korea over its weapons of mass destruction.

The CIA believes the North has produced at least one or two nuclear weapons.

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