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N.Korea: Ready to consider US security offer
( 2003-10-26 11:10) (Reuters)

North Korea, in a significant shift in a year-old nuclear crisis, said Saturday it was prepared to consider a U.S. offer of security guarantees in return for Pyongyang dropping its atomic weapons program.

But, in comments from a Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Communist North said it was too early to assume more multilateral nuclear talks would be held until Pyongyang had checked Washington's intentions through diplomatic channels.

President Bush proposed the unspecified written undertakings this week during an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation(APEC) meeting in Bangkok.

"We are ready to consider Bush's remarks on the written assurances of nonaggression if they are based on the intention to coexist with the DPRK and aimed to play a positive role in realizing the proposal for a package solution on the principle of simultaneous actions," the spokesman said.

DPRK are the initials of the North's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The North's official KCNA news agency published the spokesman's comments in English.

"It is premature to talk about the six-way talks under the present situation unless the will to accept the principle of simultaneous actions is confirmed," he said.

In Washington, the White House reacted cautiously to the apparent shift in tone from North Korea.

"We're looking at the message and we hope North Korea will return to the Beijing six-party talks," White House spokesman Jimmy Orr told Reuters.

China hosted an inconclusive first round of talks in Beijing in August with Japan, Russia, the two Koreas and the United States.

"This is a responsible reaction which will set a positive tone for the next round of talks," said Wi Sung-lac, director-general of the North American Affairs department at the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

"We hope this, combined with China's help, could help generate momentum for dialogue. But we are not overly optimistic and we will take a careful approach," he told Reuters.


The North said Pyongyang's request was "simple and clear."

"What we want is for both sides to drop guns and establish normal state relationship to coexist peacefully," the spokesman said. "The unilateral demand that one of the two belligerent parties forces the other party to drop guns and come out first with its hands up can never be met."

The remarks were stripped of trademark harsh rhetoric toward Washington and contrasted with an initial KCNA commentary earlier this week that described Bush's offer as laughable. That followed a threat from the North to prove it had a nuclear weapon.

The spokesman also did not reiterate the North's stock phrase that demands Washington drop its "hostile policy."

Official media have in the past given a swift rhetorical reaction while leaders weighed a more considered response.

Significantly, Saturday's first official response came ahead of a visit next week by a Chinese delegation headed by Beijing's Communist Party No. 2, Wu Bangguo.

China is North Korea's main ally but was instrumental in cajoling Pyongyang to attend a three-way round of talks in April with the United States and then August's six-way talks.

The spokesman said the North had already been in touch through the so-called "New York channel" -- North Korean diplomats at the United Nations talking to State Department officials. The two countries have no diplomatic ties.

"The U.S. side reiterated its stance to attach importance to the New York contact and pursue it," said the spokesman, noting that simultaneous actions were the key.

Washington has in the past said Pyongyang must first ditch its nuclear ambitions before other steps can be taken.

But Bush's move to reassure North Korea on security has been taken to mean simultaneous steps could be possible to break the deadlock, possibly along the lines of a successful post-Cold War deal to disarm Ukraine of its Soviet-era nuclear weapons.

The latest North Korean crisis began last October when Washington said Pyongyang had said it had a covert atomic plan.

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