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Last Updated:  Saturday, 12 April, 2003, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
N Korea 'open to dialogue'
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il with his military top brass
North Korea opens itself to offers
An official from North Korea's foreign ministry has hinted the secretive communist state will accept United States demands for multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons programme.

The spokesman said the talks depended on the attitude taken by the US, the North Korean state news agency reported.

Pyongyang has previously offered only bilateral talks with the US while Washington has insisted on multilateral discussions that include North Korea's neighbours, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

The US State Department replied on Saturday it was studying the North Korean proposal "with interest".

"We expect to follow up through the appropriate diplomatic channels," said spokesman Philip Reeker.

North Korea's spokesman suggested the crisis could be resolved of the US took a "sincere" approach to talks.

"If the US is ready to make a bold switchover in its Korea policy for a settlement of the nuclear issue, the DPRK will not stick to any particular dialogue format," he said.

Next target?

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il, recently made a highly symbolic visit to an air force base.

Mr Kim told pilots that he was glad to see them ready to "beat back enemies whenever they challenge", official radio reported.

North Korea is thought to be worried that it will be targeted next by the US after Iraq.

Both countries were labelled by US President George W Bush as part of an "axis of evil".

Relations between North Korea and the US have been deteriorating since last October, when the US announced that North Korea had admitted to a secretive enriched uranium programme.

In a report predating the crisis, released on Thursday, the American CIA said it had been suspicious that this had been the case for several years.

The unclassified report to Congress, which assessed the situation in North Korea during the first half of 2002, said Pyongyang appeared to be aiming to build a plant that could produce enough uranium for two or more nuclear weapons a year.

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