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 Tuesday, 14 January, 2003, 19:53 GMT
Bush 'will consider North Korea deal'
George W Bush
Mr Bush said the choice was for North Korea
US President George W Bush has offered to consider reviving a "bold initiative" of benefits for North Korea if it meets American demands to drop its nuclear ambitions.

What this nation won't do is be blackmailed

George W Bush

"We expect them not to develop nuclear weapons, and if they choose to do so - their choice - then I will reconsider whether or not we will restart the bold initiative," Mr Bush said.

The president's comments are the latest signal from the United States that it is interested in reopening discussions with North Korea to resolve the nuclear stand-off.

But Mr Bush hinted at tough negotiations ahead by adding: "What this nation won't do is be blackmailed."

In 2001, Mr Bush offered a "comprehensive dialogue" with North Korea as part of a "bold approach" in which the US would take steps to improve the lives of the Communist state's people by providing food and energy.

Open in new window : Nuclear tension
Reaction from South Korea's streets

That would have built on a 1994 deal whereby the US donated fuel oil in return for North Korea halting its nuclear programme.

But the US stopped fuel aid last October after it said that Pyongyang had admitted trying to develop nuclear weapons.

North Korea then started work on a mothballed nuclear reactor, saying it was needed to produce electricity, a move that heightened tension between the two states.

Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty last week. It has threatened to resume long-range missile tests and to begin reprocessing spent fuel rods from its nuclear reactor to make atomic bombs.

Russian mission

Mr Bush's offer comes amid high levels of international diplomacy aimed at ending the crisis.

Yongbyon nuclear facility
16 Oct: N Korea acknowledges secret nuclear programme, US says
14 Nov: Oil shipments to N Korea halted
22 Dec: N Korea removes monitoring devices at Bonbon nuclear plant
26 Dec: UN says 1,000 fuel rods have been moved to the plant
31 Dec: UN nuclear inspectors leave North Korea
6 Jan: IAEA demands inspectors be readmitted and secret weapons programme halted
10 Jan: N Korea pulls out of nuclear treaty
11 Jan: Pyongyang suggests it could resume ballistic missile tests

Russian President Vladimir Putin has asked Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov to go to Pyongyang - as well as Beijing and Washington.

A BBC correspondent in Moscow says Russia believes it can play a key role, given its historic ties with North Korea.

China - now hosting US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly on the latest leg of his peace mission - says direct talks should take place.

Correspondents say Beijing could be another leading player in a solution as - like Russia - it is a long-time ally of North Korea while also having diplomatic relations with the US.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said China could host a meeting if it was wanted.

Bush blamed One of the key negotiators of the 1994 deal which ended an earlier row - former US President Jimmy Carter - has blamed the Bush administration for plunging relations with North Korea to a new low.

He wrote in Tuesday's Washington Post newspaper that there was an "eerie sense of deja vu in Korea".

Australian envoy Murray McLean
Australia has sent Murray McLean with a message for Pyongyang
Mr Carter said there was "substantial progress" after he had talks with North Korea's late "Great Leader" Kim Il-sung with the blessing of the Clinton White House.

But he added that President Bush's hard line against Pyongyang, under which he labelled it as part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran, led many North Koreans to fear they were on a US "hit list".

Mr Carter said both sides should reaffirm the principles of the 1994 deal and said a forum - perhaps in China or Russia - could help to break the impasse.

Australia - one of few Western nations with diplomatic relations with North Korea - has also sent a team of diplomats to Pyongyang.

A United Nations envoy is also there to assess the humanitarian situation.

Observers have suggested that North Korea has been hoping all along to force the US into signing a non-aggression pact and providing fresh aid by pushing the nuclear issue.

  The BBC's Matt Prodger
"Beijing has told America it's prepared to mediate between the countries"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

See also:

14 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
13 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
13 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
13 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
10 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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