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N. Korea ready for talks over weapons

NORTH Korea suggested a new dialogue yesterday to resolve tensions over its atomic weapons programs - an apparent invitation to the United States to engage in one-on-one talks after Pyongyang bolstered its negotiating power with nuclear and missile tests.

Hours earlier, however, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Pyongyang to stick to six-nation talks that North Korea has rejected.

Clinton said the multilateral framework was "the appropriate way to engage with North Korea."

Yesterday's statement from North Korean Foreign Ministry marks a rare expression of willingness to talk by the country. Tensions have escalated in recent months since North Korea's nuclear test and a series of banned missile tests.

"There is a specific and reserved form of dialogue that can address the current situation," the ministry's statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency said.

It did not elaborate on the new form of dialogue.

But Pyongyang has long been known to be seeking direct negotiations with Washington.

"Of course, it refers to bilateral dialogue," said Kim Yong-hyun, a professor at Seoul's Dongguk University.

"For now, I think North Korea wants negotiation rather than a new provocation" as it has put forward all its negotiating cards, he said.

North Korea conducted a long-range rocket launch in April, quit the six-nation nuclear talks, restarted its nuclear facilities, conducted its second nuclear test, and test-launched a barrage of banned ballistic missiles.

In yesterday's statement, North Korea made clear again it won't return to six-nation nuclear talks involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the US.

"It became all the more clear that other parties are taking advantage of these six-party talks to seek their ulterior aims to disarm and incapacitate North Korea so that it can only subsist on the breadcrumbs thrown away by them," it said.

The brief sentence suggesting dialogue was mentioned at the end of the long statement condemning the multilateral talk.

Unlike previous ones, however, the statement did not include any threats.

North Korea's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper also said on Sunday that the country's envoy told an Asian security conference in Thailand last week that the nuclear standoff was a matter only between Pyongyang and Washington.

The US says it is willing to hold direct talks within the six-nation process if North Korea returns to the negotiating table and takes irreversible steps for denuclearization.


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