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Bush Ready for NKorea Dialogue

April 4, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The White House greeted overtures by North Korea on Wednesday with a willingness to reopen dialogue with the communist country ``any time, anywhere″ _ but not to drop President Bush’s tough talk against Pyongyang.

In a dispatch by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency, the Pyongyang government said it would resume negotiations with a U.S.-led international consortium currently building two nuclear-power reactors in that isolated, impoverished nation.

As part of its statement, North Korea said it will not tolerate ``groundless slanders″ by Washington.

In light of that warning, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer was asked if Bush was willing to stop using the term ``axis of evil″ to describe North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Fleischer replied: ``The president will continue to speak out forthrightly about what he sees as ways to make peace throughout the world.″

``Our position has always been and will continue to be that we welcome dialogue with North Korea anytime anywhere,″ Fleischer added.

U.S. officials said Washington received word from the North Koreans last week that they intended to resume discussions with the consortium _ the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, or KEDO _ after postponing a scheduled meeting last month.

The Korean news agency dispatch left unanswered Bush’s offer while in South Korea in February to resume the U.S.-North Korean security dialogue on ending Pyongyang’s development of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

``We continue to await a response from North Korea to our long-standing proposal to meet with them on broader issues of concern,″ Fleischer said.

U.S. and South Korean officials say that North Korea may already have enough plutonium to build one or two atomic bombs. But North Korea has kept United Nations inspectors out of its nuclear facilities.

In New York, Yoichiro Yamada, assistant director for policy affairs for KEDO, said Wednesday that North Korea and the consortium are in contact trying to schedule a date for new talks on the power reactors.

Under a 1994 agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, the consortium is building two reactors in the northeastern corner of North Korea.

In that accord, the U.S. promised those two reactors worth $4.6 billion in return for a freeze on the North’s nuclear facilities suspected of being used to build atomic bombs. The reactors, financed mostly by South Korea and Japan, aren’t of a type that can produce weapons-grade plutonium.

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