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Bush, Roh agree to push N. Korea nuke talks

/ Source: The Associated Press

South Korea’s leader and President Bush agreed to seek an early resumption of stalled six-nation talks aimed at curbing communist North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs, President Roh Moo-hyun’s office said in a statement Saturday.

Bush responded positively to the proposal Roh made during a 10-minute phone conversation late Friday, the president’s office said. The South Korean president had called the American leader to congratulate him on his re-election and reconfirm the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

“President Roh suggested that the two heads of state work through close consultations and try to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue as a key project and pave the way for a turning point for peace on the Korean Peninsula and for the rest of the world,” the statement said.

“The two leaders agreed that South Korea and the United States should make joint efforts to hold a next round of six-nation talks soon,” it added.

Later Saturday, visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told Roh that Japan will urge North Korea to accept an unconditional resumption of six-nation nuclear talks by the end of the year when the two nations hold talks next week in Pyongyang, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

Three rounds of six-nation talks have been held in Beijing, without breakthroughs in international efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. The six-nation nuclear negotiations involve the United States, two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia.

North Korea has yet to officially react to the election victory of Bush, whom it has condemned as “gangster” plotting to topple the Pyongyang regime.

But Han Song Ryol, deputy chief of North Korea’s mission to the United Nations, said in an interview published Friday that the nuclear talks can resume only if Bush retracts a hostile U.S. policy against the North.

Both U.S. and South Korean officials said they expected the North to return to the six-nation talks once the election was over. Some analysts believed the North was holding out for a possible victory by Bush challenger John Kerry, who was more open to bilateral U.S.-North Korean talks, as favored by Pyongyang.

Washington wants an immediate halt and U.N. inspections of North Korea’s nuclear activities. It says it can consider security guarantees and economic aid if the freeze doesn’t last long and is followed by a swift dismantling of nuclear facilities.