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N. Korea-U.S. talks set to resume

The U.S. is concerned about a buildup of forces near the DMZ between North and South Korea  

From CNN State Department Correspondent
Andrea Koppel and Producer Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After months of silence, the reclusive North Korean regime of Kim Jong Il has responded positively to U.S. overtures to resume talks designed to ease tensions between the two countries, senior Bush administration officials told CNN.

The talks could also boost the long-term goal of achieving normal diplomatic relations between the two countries, the officials said Monday.

U.S. President George W. Bush in January described North Korea as one of three members of an international "axis of evil" , along with Iraq and Iran.

North Korea on Monday told the U.S. it would welcome a visit to Pyongyang by a State Department envoy.

The talks could resume as soon as next month, according to one senior U.S. administration official, but the State Department is, so far, non-commital.

"We've heard they want to ... (resume talks) but no decision has been made," as to what the next steps will be, the State Department official told CNN.

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But another senior administration official told CNN that, in fact, the U.S. has decided to move ahead with the talks, perhaps as soon as next month in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.

The White House was expected to announce the imminent resumption of talks soon, that official said.

At the moment the two sides were working out logistics.

The plan will be to send the U.S. envoy on North Korean affairs, Jack Pritchard, to represent the U.S. in the first talks between the two for more than 18 months.

For months Pritchard has had contact with North Korean officials through "regular" channels of communications at the United Nations and has traveled to Tokyo, Seoul, and Beijing laying out a U.S. "road map" for better relations with North Korea, a source told CNN.

Publicly, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has offered to resume talks "any place, at any time ... without preconditions" but until recently North Korea responded only with a stony silence.

South Korean intermediary

Earlier this month a South Korean envoy, Lim Dong-won, brought the U.S. plan to North Korea.

Lim told the Bush administration that North Korea said it was prepared to host a high-level U.S. envoy to discuss how to improve relations.

During the final months of the Clinton administration, relations seemed to be rapidly improving.

Then-secretary of state of Madeleine Albright paid a visit to Pyongyang in October 2000 with the expectation Clinton might visit, but time ran out before a deal could be struck.

The U.S. hopes to persuade the North to give up its missile program in exchange for other compensation.

The Bush administration, as did the Clinton administration, maintains that North Korea is one of the world's biggest proliferators of missiles and missile technology.

Nuclear program

Human map
South Korea has acted as a go-between to help re-start the talks  

The Clinton era talks focussed mainly on a proposed deal under which North Korea would curb its development and export of missiles in exchange for economic benefits from the U.S., Associated Press reports.

But the Bush administration felt that the Clinton era talks were too narrowly focussed and should be expanded to include any other issue either side wanted to raise.

Of particular interest to the U.S. was the large North Korean force buildup near the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea.

The U.S. also is eager for accounting of North Korean nuclear activity prior to a 1994 agreement in which Pyongyang agreed to freeze a suspected nuclear weapons program, AP says.

In return for the freeze, South Korea and Japan would provide two light water nuclear reactors to North Korea.

For its part, the U.S. agreed to provide the North with 500,000 tons of heavy fuel annually until the nuclear reactors become operational.




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