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Powell mulls 'bold initiative' for N. Korea

Resolution of nuclear issue cited as prerequisite

Powell says the U.S. will consider helping North Korea economically once the issue of nuclear proliferation is dealt with.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Friday a "bold initiative," similar to President Richard Nixon's China initiative in the early 1970s, is an option for North Korea.

But, he said, that would not happen until multilateral discussions find a solution to the nuclear crisis between North Korea and the United States.

Powell said following a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan that the United States would "be in close coordination with North Korea" as the nations seek that elusive solution.

"Some suggest we're distracted because of Iraq," Powell said, "but that's not the case. We are spending a great deal of time ... exploring a variety of options and avenues."

Troubles with North Korea mounted late last year when Pyongyang declared it would restart a nuclear reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium and kicked out U.N. nuclear monitors as it prepared to do so.

A month after kicking out the monitors, North Korea withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and last month restarted the reactor -- which could create the plutonium within a year.

Talks are stalled. Pyongyang wants talks solely with the United States. Washington insists that other nations in the region -- specifically China, Japan and South Korea -- must take part in talks.

Powell said Yoon "presented us with a road map of things we might do ... and I found it to be an interesting approach which we will be examining among other things we might do in preparing for the [South Korea-U.S.] summit this spring."

"You will recall when we started our dialogue with North Korea last year, before the nuclear issue broke out, we were considering a bold initiative, something that would move our relationship to a different plane, and to help them with economic problems and starvation," he said.

"Those kinds of ideas and options are on the table once we deal with nuclear proliferation, proliferation of weapons and other activities."

Nixon reached out to China in the middle of his first term, dramatically changing the face of U.S.-East Asian relations.

"A lot is out there waiting for North Korea once they realize their obligation to comply with international agreements and bilateral agreements," Powell said.

Earlier this week, the North Korean army announced it would no longer participate in weekly meetings at a joint security area set up on the border between North and South. (Full story)

Pyongyang also said it would have "no option" but to stop honoring its commitments to the 1953 Korean War armistice because of "persistent war moves" by the United States in and around the Korean Peninsula.

The United States and South Korea have been moving ahead with annual joint military exercises this month, which the North called a "grave situation."

North Korea has issued similar statements in recent weeks, all threatening to pull out of the 1953 agreement and accusing the United States of violating it.

Both sides in recent weeks have escalated their military movements on the peninsula. North Korean fighter jets intercepted a U.S. spy plane earlier this month in international airspace off the coast.

In addition to the military exercises with the South, the United States decided to deploy 12 B-1 bombers and 12 B-52 bombers to Guam as a message to North Korea that the U.S. military is not distracted by the war in Iraq.

Some longtime Korea observers in the Bush administration have begun to voice concern privately that such moves could lead to a military showdown on the Korean Peninsula, according to several administration sources.

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