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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 14:39 GMT
Allies welcome US shift on N Korea
North Korean rally calls for more powerful military, 7 January 2003
No one can be sure of North Korea's true intentions
Asian allies of the United States have welcomed Washington's willingness to engage in direct talks with North Korea to resolve the standoff over the country's nuclear programme.

There is an increasing danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula due to the US criminal policy towards the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea

North Korean statement
A South Korean spokesman urged North Korea to make the next move and reconsider its "defiant posture".

And a senior Japanese official described the US statement as "meaningful".

Pyongyang has not responded officially but state-controlled media accused the US of "spreading rumours" to incite nuclear war between the Koreas.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon says the US and its regional allies are hoping that North Korea's nuclear programme is really a diplomatic gambit designed to extract economic and political concessions.

But no one can be sure of the North's true intentions, our correspondent says, and if it has decided to build a nuclear stockpile - as the US alleges - then a more dangerous confrontation will be unavoidable.

No concessions

The United States' offer - reversing its previous policy - followed talks in Washington with South Korean and Japanese diplomats.

"The US delegation explained that the United States is willing to talk to North Korea about how it meets its obligations to the international community," a joint statement read.

But it added: "However, the US delegation stressed that the United States will not provide quid pro quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations."

CRISIS CHRONOLOGY
Satellite photo of the Yongbyon plant (AFP)
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 Yongbyon 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
7 Jan: US "willing to talk" to North Korea

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said the United States "has been insisting on a peaceful solution all along".

His cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda said Japan would continue to hold discussions with North Korea in various forms now that there was a "common understanding on how North Korea should live up to its obligations in returning to the international community".

South Korea called on Pyongyang to seize the opportunity and respond to the offer.

"We of course welcome the decision," said Foreign Ministry official Chun Young-woo. "We hope North Korea reconsiders its defiant posture and resolves tensions over its military programmes."

But the North said the US was "spreading false rumours" about a nuclear programme.

"There is an increasing danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula due to the US criminal policy towards the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea (DPRK)," read a statement from the official news agency KCNA on Wednesday.

"The US is deliberately spreading a false rumour about the DPRK's 'nuclear issue', in particular, in a bid to vitiate the atmosphere of inter-Korean reconciliation and unity and foster confrontation among Koreans."

The United States is willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community

Statement from US and allies
Our Seoul correspondent says such threats are not uncommon in North Korean rhetoric and are not taken literally in South Korea.

The standoff began in October, when the US said North Korea had admitted to pursuing a programme to produce weapons-grade plutonium.

Last week, Pyongyang expelled inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Despite the controversy, the European Commission on Wednesday unveiled 9.5 million euros ($9.9m) of much-needed aid for starving North Korea.

Aid Commissioner Paul Nielson said it would be channelled through the UN's World Food Programme, which has faced shortfalls this year.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Charles Scanlon
"It's an important signal that Washington may be ready to do a deal"
  Tariq Rauf, International Atomic Energy Agency
"Only through dialogue can we resolve outstanding issues"

Nuclear tensions

Inside North Korea

Divided peninsula

TALKING POINT
See also:

07 Jan 03 | Media reports
07 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
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