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North Korea Pushes for Direct Talks With U.S.

A commentary in the communist party daily newspaper Rodong Sinmun accused the Bush administration of avoiding its responsibility for the nuclear crisis by seeking dialogues with North Korea’s neighbors instead of dealing with Pyongyang directly.

“By calling for multilateral talks the U.S. means letting other countries stand in its stead,” the commentary said, according to the Korean Central News Agency. “This is not the stand and attitude to solve the problem, but an act of evading its responsibility.”

The newspaper accused the U.S. of instigating the current nuclear standoff by “escalat[ing] the nuclear threat to [North Korea] in recent years, talking about ‘preemptive nuclear attack.'”

“The only way of solving it is to conclude a non-aggression treaty with legal binding force through bilateral direct talks,” the commentary added.

The Bush administration has continued to pursue a multilateral approach to North Korea, asserting that the communist country’s nuclear ambitions affect the Northeast Asia region and the rest of the world.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on Monday said Mr. Bush thinks a range of international consultations remains the most fruitful means to negotiate the Korea dispute.

“[T]he president thinks the most effective way to do that is through all nations working together on it. It is not a bilateral matter. It is not a unilateral matter. It is a matter for all the nations in the region, because the risks are present for all the nations in the region.”

On Monday, the president spoke with Chinese leader Jiang Zemin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi about resolving the North Korea nuclear issue, Fleischer said.

Fleischer said President Bush and Koizumi both agreed that “North Korea’s nuclear weapons program is a threat to the entire international community, and agreed to continue working for an international approach to ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.”

China’s support for the Bush administration’s multilateral method, however, appeared less definitive.

Fleischer said that Presidents Bush and Jiang “recalled their common commitment to seeking peaceful means to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.”

North Korea’s renewed call for bilateral talks with Washington comes just one day after Pyongyang test-fired a short-range anti-ship cruise missile over the Sea of Japan, similar to another missile launch on Feb. 24.

Meanwhile, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Tuesday called for stronger military ties with the United States in a speech to the graduating class of the Korea Military Academy in Seoul.

“The staunch Korea-U.S. combined defense arrangement is greatly contributing to our national security,” Roh said. “The solid [South Korea]-U.S. alliance should be maintained even more so.”

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