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N. Korea says it's 'ready to deal with' Obama

A North Korean diplomat says the country is ready to deal with any new U.S. administration following Barack Obama's election to the presidency.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A North Korean diplomat says the country is ready to deal with any new U.S. administration following Barack Obama's election to the presidency as talks continued over dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program.

Ri Gun, a North Korean nuclear negotiator, spoke Thursday in New York after a meeting with Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy to the international negotiations on Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

"We have dealt with various U.S. administrations, including an administration that sought dialogue with us and an administration that attempted to isolate and contain us," Ri said. "Whatever U.S. administration comes forward, we are ready to deal with that administration's policy" on Pyongyang.

Later, after meeting with the chief U.S. nuclear envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, Ri said: "We will have dialogue if (the U.S.) seeks dialogue. If it seeks isolation, we will stand against it."

South Korea's news channel YTN showed Ri speaking to reporters.

During his campaign, Obama tried to distance himself from the hard-line policies President Bush adopted in his first term on North Korea's nuclear weapons. He has emphasized his willingness to continue direct talks with the North — a policy Bush has now embraced.

Pledge to South Korea
On Friday, Obama spoke by telephone with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and pledged to work closely together with the Asian ally to help resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff and the global financial turmoil.

Obama called the U.S. alliance with Seoul a "cornerstone" of Asia's peace and stability, Lee's office said.

The United States helped defend South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War. About 28,500 American troops are still stationed across South Korea to deter threats from the North.

Lee, who took office in February, is a conservative with a harder stance on Pyongyang than most of his predecessors.

Seoul's Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told reporters Friday that there would be "no big difficulties" in coordinating North Korea policies with Obama's administration, because both countries share the same goal of denuclearizing Pyongyang and want to achieve that through dialogue.

Next step?
In New York, the senior U.S. and North Korean diplomats met Thursday to discuss the next steps in implementing Pyongyang's pledge to dismantle its nuclear program. President Bush removed North Korea from the State Department's "state sponsors of terrorism" list on Oct. 11 after the North relented on nuclear inspection demands.

Kim said the meeting was "substantive, detailed, and we look forward to continuing to keep in touch."

Ri said "We all agree (in) the exchange of views what we have to do more, and what is the next thing."

Hill told reporters after the dinner meeting with Ri that they agreed to convene a new round of six-nation nuclear talks as early as possible, according to YTN.