WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Colin Powell on Thursday ruled out conditions for beginning talks with North Korea but said the ``open dialogue'' he envisions will include attempts to ease tensions along the border with South Korea.
Alluding to the large North Korean troop presence in the border area, Powell said, ``You can't really have a full set of discussions without raising this particular issue.''
Powell spoke with reporters after a luncheon meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Han Seung-soo, who said he welcomed President Bush's decision to open talks with Pyongyang.
``The United States' dialogue with North Korea will certainly help South Korea's effort for reconciliation and cooperation with North Korea,'' he said.
Powell said the initial contacts with North Korea probably will involve State Department officials who have dealt with Pyongyang's envoys in the past.
One possibility is Jack Pritchard, a career diplomat who specializes in Korean affairs in the East Asia bureau.
Bush announced Wednesday his intention to open talks with North Korea on a range of issues. There have been no substantive talks with Pyongyang since the Clinton administration, which attempted to negotiate a missile control agreement but fell short.
The negotiations involved an effort to wean Pyongyang away from missile development and missile exports in exchange for U.S. help for North Korea's devastated economy.
Powell said humanitarian issues will be on the U.S. agenda. His spokesman, Richard Boucher, said terrorism is another.
North Korea is one of seven countries on the State Department list of countries alleged to sponsor international terrorism. Membership on the list means an automatic denial of certain U.S. economic benefits.
Boucher recalled that the Clinton administration informed North Korea what it had to do to be removed from the list. ``At this point they haven't done those things,'' he said.
It is not clear how the North Koreans will respond to Bush's initiative. There was no official reaction from Pyongyang. An official at North Korea's office at the United Nations declined comment on the proposal.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, ``The next step is up to North Korea. It will be interesting to see how North Korea reacts.''
Powell has expressed concern several times about North Korea's military presence near the border.
Boucher had no details on the North Korean activities in that area but the Council on Foreign Relations said in March that Pyongyang has been increasing its military capability.
North Korea ``has spent the past two years building up its capacity to inflict damage on South Korea and Japan with new deployments of artillery, fighter aircraft, special operations forces and ballistic missiles.''
It is too early to say, the Council said, ``whether Pyongyang's diplomacy is merely a tactical move or the beginning of a more fundamental transformation toward openness, economic reform and peaceful coexistence.''
Boucher, reminded that Bush had said in March that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was untrustworthy, said the administration's concerns about him remain the same.
``They haven't changed,'' he said. ``That is why, as they have stressed all along, verification, transparency will be a very, very important part of anything we do.''