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N. Korea offers nuclear freeze

Bush rejects plan, says it's not enough

WASHINGTON -- North Korea's willingness to freeze its nuclear weapons program in exchange for US concessions falls short of what is necessary to end its standoff with the United States, President Bush said yesterday in rejecting the offer.

The president's statement, and similar remarks by White House and State Department spokesmen, appeared part of jockeying for position in advance of another round of talks with North Korea.

"The goal of the United States is not for a freeze of the nuclear program," Bush said. "The goal is to dismantle a nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way."

The president spoke at a brief news conference with Premier Wen Jiabao of China, who visited Bush at the White House. The Chinese are working to revive stalled talks between North Korea and the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China after a five-month pause.

According to a senior US official, China has a sense of progress toward setting up new talks but does not believe the point has been reached yet.

Bush and Wen did not take up North Korea's latest overture, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We spent a lot of time talking about North Korea here," Bush said after his meeting with Wen. "We share a mutual goal, and that is for the Korean peninsula to be nuclear weapons-free."

The president said the United States would keep working with China and the other countries in the six-party talks "to resolve this issue peacefully."

The talks had been expected to resume next Wednesday, but a starting date remains elusive as Chinese officials shuttle between Washington and Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, to try to work out terms.

In Pyongyang, Kim Jong Il's government announced yesterday that it would be willing to freeze its nuclear weapons projects in return for energy aid and removal of North Korea from the State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We, along with the rest of the members of the six-party talks, are ready for a new round of talks at an early date and without any preconditions whatsoever." He said Pyongyang "has yet to commit to doing what is necessary to achieving a de-nuclearized peninsula."

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