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Rice Says S. Korea Must Defend Against 'Close-In Threat'

Associated Press
Sunday, March 20, 2005; 1:02 AM

SEOUL, South Korea -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that international disarmament talks remain North Korea's only option as the United States, South Korea and other allies try to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

Rice played down a suggestion from South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon that the six-party talks give North Korea the venue it most wants -- a means to negotiate with the United States directly.

Ban had emphasized the U.S-North Korea dialogue in remarks to reporters after meeting with Rice earlier Sunday.

Rice quickly reiterated the U.S. position that multiparty talks present a united front to the North Koreans. The United States and South Korea are fully agreed that the nuclear program must end and that those talks are the way to achieve the goal, she said at a news conference.

"It is also well known that when we are at the table everyone can't talk at once," she said, but U.S. and North Korean negotiators sometimes do talk to one another in that setting.

U.S. officials have repeatedly rejected the idea that one-on-one negotiations with North Korea is the quickest path to resolving the nuclear weapons problem.

During her weeklong trip to Asia, Rice has said solo talks would only allow the North Koreans to play the United States off against its Asian and Eurasian allies. The five nations talking to North Korea are the United States, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan.

On Saturday, Rice saw firsthand what a war with North Korea might look like.

She became the most senior American official to tour a command center for U.S. and South Korean troops that would be the battle headquarters in the event of fighting with the communist North.

"I know that you face a close-in threat every day," Rice told troops at Command Post Tango, or Theater Air Naval Ground Operations.

Rice's visit coincided with a twice-yearly war exercise involving thousands of American and South Korean soldiers. When Rice got a look at the command center, it also was the first time that reporters and cameras were allowed into the bunker south of Seoul.

North Korea denounced the exercises as a rehearsal for a U.S.-led pre-emptive attack.

"The Republic of Korea, a great democracy now, faces a threat across the divide of a state that is not democratic, that is not free, and that does not have the best interests of its people at heart," Rice said.

Rice's trip to Asia is intended partly to push North Korea to resume nuclear disarmament talks. She repeatedly has assured North Korea that the United States has no intention of invading.


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