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President Bush urges N. Korea to lighten up

Hours after being branded a moral leper by North Korea, President George W. Bush Friday said he would be happy to talk to the communist state if it downgraded its military posture and halted weapons exports.

Three days after coupling North Korea with Iran and Iraq as facilitators of terrorism in his State of the Union address, Bush said it was up to Pyongyang to take the “right decision.”

“A wrong decision will be to continue to export weapons of mass destruction and I certainly hope that North Korea, for example, listens to what we suggested.”

“That is that they pull back some conventional weaponry to make a clear declaration of their peaceful intentions on the peninsula and that they not export weapons.

“We would be more than happy to enter into a dialogue with them if that be the case.”

Those remarks were in effect a restatement of the conclusions of a policy review towards North Korea conducted by Bush’s administration.

North Korea, disappointed that Bush rejected the accelerated engagement strategy conducted by the Clinton administration, interpreted the review as establishing a set of conditions for dialogue.

Many analysts believe that Pyongyang is unlikely to pull back troops from the border with South Korea, or agree to halt weapons sales prior to a dialogue, as such a move would in effect remove its best cards in negotiations.

On Tuesday, Bush singled out Iran, Iraq and North Korea as “an axis of evil,” bluntly warning them they could face U.S. action if they continued to develop weapons of mass destruction that could fall into the hands of groups hostile to the United States. In a first official reaction to Bush’s outspoken speech, a Pyongyang foreign ministry spokesman Friday said: “We are sharply watching the disturbing moves of the United States that has pushed the situation to the brink of war.”

Quoted by the official KCNA news agency, the spokesman said that Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington and scandals such as the collapse of the U.S. energy giant Enron were “entirely attributable to the unilateral and self-opinionated foreign policy, political immaturity and moral leprosy of the Bush administration.”

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