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U.S. says it will talk with N. Korea

B-1 bombers are included in the order
B-1 bombers are included in the order

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CNN's Mike Chinoy reports that North Korea needs U.S. support and wants to be treated as a legitimate equal.
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SEOUL, South Korea -- The United States says it is prepared to hold face-to-face meetings with North Korea over the latter's nuclear program but no timeframe has been set for any talks.

U.S. Deputy Secretary Of State Richard Armitage said Tuesday said he wants to delay any direct meetings between the United States and North Korea until South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun takes office in late February.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed a "prepare to deploy" order to send aircraft to the Pacific region as a signal to North Korea that the United States is not distracted by Iraq.

Pyongyang described the move as an attempt by Washington "to crush us to death."

Armitage said the order was nothing more than "prudent military planning."

In other developments, a South Korean envoy for the incoming government, Dai Chul-chyung, met U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington Tuesday.

Speaking after that meeting, Dai said he hoped the United States dealt with the North Korean issue in a robust manner but added that any dialogue between the two countries should be done "in an international setting, with a multilateral approach".

The South Korean envoy said the incoming government believes the International Atomic Energy Agency could bring the Korea nuclear issue to the Security Council, "but the solution for this should be sought in a gradual, step-by-step manner."

Monday, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said, "I've exhausted all possibilities within my power to bring North Korea into compliance.

"I concluded that in my view they are in non-compliance with the safeguard agreement and the board has decided to meet on the 12th of February to, I assume, certify my conclusion."

Dai said, "We are aware that there is a possibility that North Korea could develop five to six nuclear weapons within a short period of time, but there is no solid evidence as yet that would occur."

North Korea hit out at U.S. moves to bolster its military forces in the region, after U.S. aircraft were placed on alert for possible deployment to the Pacific.

The "prepare to deploy" move is intended to signal to Pyongyang that Washington is not totally distracted by the military buildup in the Persian Gulf.

North Korea responded with fiery rhetoric.

"It's an attempt to crush us to death, the U.S. military is scheming to beef up forces in Japan and South Korea," North Korea's state-run Central Radio said in a Tuesday broadcast monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The United States already has 37,000 troops based in South Korea and 48,000 in Japan.

Alert

The U.S. order, unveiled on Monday, will cover sending 24 bombers -- a mixture of B-52s and B-1s -- to Guam.

An undisclosed number of intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft are also being sent to various locations in the region under the plan.

The order will not, however, fulfill the entire request for forces made by U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Tom Fargo, according to a senior military official. (U.S. commander seeks buildup)

So far, no land-based fighters have been approved, a request made by Fargo. That deployment could be approved in the next few days.

The order also does not include an aircraft carrier, with the USS Kitty Hawk remaining deployed to the area.

If the Kitty Hawk is reassigned and sent to the Persian Gulf then a replacement carrier would be deployed, most likely the Carl Vinson.

In separate reports carried by North Korean media, Pyongyang has said its troops are on alert in case of a U.S. attack and its people were ready and willing to sacrifice for their leader and socialism "no matter how the world may change."

"The Korean people have a particular attachment to their socialist system chosen and built by themselves in their way," a report on the official Korean Central News Agency said on Tuesday.

Fuel rods

This photo shows N. Korean leader Kim Jong Il (wearing sunglasses) during visits to army units at an undisclosed location last month
This photo shows N. Korean leader Kim Jong Il (wearing sunglasses) during visits to army units at an undisclosed location last month

"This unity means the unity of the people in the faith that they are ready to share the destiny with leader Kim Jong Il in difficulties and ordeals and their unity in the will to always remain true to their pledge made to him no matter how the world may change," it said.

The nuclear standoff between Washington and Pyongyang was sparked in October when the United States said North Korea had admitted developing nuclear arms.

The U.S. then cut fuel oil supplies and Pyongyang responded by reactivating mothballed nuclear reactors, ejecting U.N. nuclear inspectors and pulling out of a global nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

On Friday, U.S. officials said spy satellites had detected trucks taking fuel rods out of storage, a key step in the reactivation of its Yongbyon nuclear facility. (Full story)

The United States wants to bring the issue before the U.N. Security Council, which could eventually impose economic or political sanctions on the isolationist North.

Pyongyang has rejected the move, saying talks and agreement to a non-aggression pact are the only way out of the crisis.

It says any sanctions imposed on it by the Security Council would effectively be a declaration of war.

-- CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report


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