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U.S. agrees to talk with North Korea

President Bush: 'Diplomacy will work'

North Koreans call for a stronger military at a rally Tuesday in Pyongyang. The communist state warned that economic sanctions against it would lead to war.

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start quoteSanctions mean a war, and the war knows no mercy.end quote
-- KCNA, North Korean state news agency
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Sources tell CNN's Andrea Koppel back-channel talks between the U.S. and N. Korea have been going on for weeks.
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South Korea tries to resolve a dispute over North Korea's violation of nuclear nonproliferation obligations.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States agreed Tuesday to talk with North Korea about its obligations to end its nuclear program but said it wouldn't compromise with the communist country, according to a joint statement concluding two days of trilateral talks in Washington.

The United States, South Korea and Japan opened the talks Monday on how to defuse the escalating impasse with North Korea, which kicked out nuclear inspectors in December and has shown no signs of cooperating with the international community.

Previously, the U.S. delegation had said the United States would not talk directly with North Korea.

"We're not going to provide any quid pro quos for North Korea to live up to its existing obligations," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "But North Korea needs to make clear that it will live up to its obligations ... and we are willing to talk about how North Korea can do that," he said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is being pressured to adhere to obligations set in a 1994 anti-nuclear agreement. Under that pact, Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for aid from the United States, Japan and South Korea. In October, North Korea acknowledged to a U.S. envoy that it was again pursuing nuclear weapons.

The three allies agreed to meet again soon, but no date was set.

President Bush said he believes "diplomacy will work," and he reiterated that the United States has no plans to attack North Korea.

"We have no aggressive intent, no argument with the North Korean people. We're interested in peace on the Korean Peninsula," Bush said.

In the face of growing international pressure, North Korea said Tuesday that any economic sanctions against it would amount to an act of war.

"Sanctions mean a war, and the war knows no mercy," read an editorial by the official Korean Central News Agency. "The U.S. should opt for dialogue with the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea], not for war, clearly aware that it will have to pay a very high price for such reckless acts."

'Serious consequences'

The United States, Japan and South Korea expressed their support for the resolution adopted Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency that says North Korea could face "serious consequences, not unlike Iraq," if it continues to defy the world community.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said Tuesday that North Korea has just weeks to readmit weapons inspectors before the matter is referred to the Security Council. (Full story)

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued that statement a day after its governing board adopted a resolution condemning North Korea for violating international non-proliferation obligations and calling on Pyongyang to immediately come back into compliance.

"They have a choice -- either to continue the policy of defiance and then continue to be further isolated and possibly subject to coercive measures, or come around and then open doors for the international community," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency's director general. (Transcript)

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