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Last Updated: Monday, 5 May, 2003, 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
N Korea demands US response
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
The US has described the North Koreans as 'masters of ambiguity'

North Korea has asked the United States to respond to what it described as the "bold proposal" it made in last month's talks in Beijing to help defuse the continuing nuclear standoff.

North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper - run by the ruling Workers Party - accused Washington on Monday of ignoring Pyongyang's proposal.

It said that if the US did not make a "positive" response, it would be held accountable for "scuttling all efforts for dialogue and seriously straining the situation".

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Colin Powell described the North Koreans as "masters of ambiguity".

In an interview with US television network NBC, he said the US would not be intimidated into giving North Korea what it wanted.

Oct 2002 - US says N Korea "admits" secret nuclear programme
Nov 2002 - US-led decision to halt oil shipments to N Korea
Dec 2002 - N Korea expels two nuclear watchdog's inspectors
Jan 2003 - N Korea says it is withdrawing from Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Feb 2003 - N Korea "restarts" Yongbyon nuclear plant
Apr 2003 - N Korean and US officials meet for three-way talks in China

US officials have said that Pyongyang offered to give up its nuclear programme in exchange for substantial economic and diplomatic concessions.

But Mr Powell said: "Their nuclear weapons are not going to purchase them any political standing that will cause us to be frightened or to think that somehow we now have to march to their tune."

Washington says North Korea told US officials at the talks in Beijing that it had nuclear weapons.

North Korea has not made any such assertion in public.

But President Bush is reportedly shifting his focus onto North Korea's nuclear sales, the New York Times reported on Monday.

"Tacitly acknowledging that North Korea may not be deterred from producing plutonium for nuclear weapons, President Bush is now trying to marshal international support for preventing the country from exporting nuclear material," the newspaper said.

The crisis in North Korea began last October, when Washington accused Pyongyang of having a secret nuclear arms programme.

The three-way talks in Beijing were the first high-level US-North Korean contact since the crisis erupted.

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