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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 10:48 GMT
US offers N Korea 'unconditional' talks
Anti-US protesters in Seoul walking on a US flag
Mr Bush's 'axis of evil' speech has sparked protests
US President George W Bush will offer North Korea unconditional talks when he travels to Asia next week according to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Mr Powell told a US Senate committee the president hoped the North would respond.

[President Bush] intends to fan up war hysteria, antagonism and confrontation

Minju Joson editorial
But in comments published on Wednesday, North Korea described Mr Bush as a "bellicose and heinous president".

The state-run Minju Joson newspaper said Mr Bush's tour was intended to drive the South to war against its communist neighbour.

Mr Powell said the president had "no plan on his desk right now to begin a war against any nation".

There have been fierce exchanges between the US and North Korea since President Bush last month included the Pyongyang Government in an "axis of evil" seeking weapons of mass destruction along with Iraq and Iran.

Last week North Korea said the US was the "empire of the devil".

Peace hopes

South Korea has been striving to improve relations with the North, most notably under President Kim Dae-jung's so-called Sunshine Policy, which seeks to engage its neighbour.

South Koreans at Dorasan station write messages on the railway sleepers
South Koreans made a symbolic train trip to the border
It wants the US to play a more active role in the search for peace.

But the North has broken off official contact with the South, citing its political tensions with the US.

President Bush put relations with North Korea on hold when he took office in 2001. He later offered to renew talks but the North has so far rejected Washington's diplomatic overtures.

On Tuesday, hundreds of elderly South Koreans made a symbolic railway journey to a point close to the demilitarised zone separating the two countries, expressing hope that they might one day be reunited with long-lost relatives in the North.

The two Koreas remain technically at war as they never signed a peace treaty when hostilities ended in 1953.

See also:

01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea hits back at US
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kim dismisses 'rogue' status
19 Jun 00 | Middle East
US rebrands its rogues gallery
13 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim Dae-jung: Korean peacemaker
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