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New South Korea Leader Offers to Mediate North Korea-U.S. Standoff

In Seoul, the head of Roh’s transition team told a Korean television interviewer that the plan would require concessions both from President Bush and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

South Korea intends to present its final proposal at meetings with the United States and Japan to be held in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said. South Korean and Russian officials are scheduled to meet over the weekend.

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is scheduled to fly to the region to discuss North Korea and other issues during next week’s meetings with South Korean and Japanese officials.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday that the U.S. would talk with South Korean officials about the offer, but would not strike a deal with North Korea to end the standoff.

“We’ve … made clear we’re not going to enter into negotiations in response to threats or broken commitments,” Boucher said. “We’re not going to bargain or offer inducements to North Korea to live up to treaties and agreements that it has signed.”

Boucher said the U.S. wants the Pyongyang government to “verifiably and visibly dismantle its nuclear weapons program that violates previous commitments.”

Earlier Friday, North Korea’s ambassador to China, Choe Jin Su, said his government rejected any U.S. preconditions on potential negotiations and again demanded a non-aggression treaty as Pyongyang’s prerequisite to refreeze its nuclear program.

“If the U.S. legally assures us of security by concluding a non-aggression treaty, the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula will be easily settled,” Choe said.

However, Choe said “the U.S. should respect international agreements and respond with dialogue toward the [North Korea] without any preconditions.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell has ruled out a non-aggression treaty, saying it would amount to a reward for North Korea to halt its moves to build new nuclear weapons.

Choe defended the North’s decision to restart its plutonium-based nuclear program and accused the United States of threatening the North with nuclear weapons. He said the

North was forced to act in October when a U.S.-led coalition cut off energy aid promised under a 1994 nuclear freeze agreement.

“We are compelled not to implement” the 1994 agreement, Choe said at a news conference. “The situation is getting worse and worse.”

Washington said it turned off oil supplies to North Korea because Pyongyang acknowledged in October the existence of a second, uranium-based nuclear program, which violated international arms control agreements.

Choe said North Korea would be willing to discuss conditions for again freezing its nuclear program with the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency “when the time permits.”

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