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North Korea says it does not oppose dialogue with United States

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ North Korea said Monday it does not oppose dialogue with the United States, reversing its earlier position that it was no longer interested in dialogue and improvement of relations.

``It is good, not bad, to improve North Korea-U.S. relations,'' said Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the isolated communist nation's ruling Workers' Party.

North Korea reaffirmed its opposition, however, to Washington's efforts to widen discussions to include North Korea's conventional arms in addition to its missile program.

Last week, North Korea said that it was no longer interested in talks with the United States and demanded an apology from President Bush for criticizing its leader, Kim Jong Il.

Bush said earlier that he was ``disappointed'' with Kim for not responding positively to his offer in June to resume talks and described the North Korean leader as ``so suspicious, so secretive.''

U.S.-North Korea relations improved during the last months of the Clinton administration, but stalled when Bush initially suspended talks as part of a policy review following his inauguration.

North Korea ``neither neglects nor opposes'' dialogue with the United States, said the Rodong Sinmun article, according to North Korea's state news agency, KCNA, which was monitored in Seoul.

But the newspaper said the Bush administration's proposal to discuss North Korea's conventional arms is ``aimed to disarm North Korea and torpedo the North Korea-U.S. dialogue.''

U.S.-North Korean tensions have also stalled reconciliation efforts between North and South Korea. Those efforts flourished following a historic summit of their leaders in June last year.

The Koreas resumed dialogue in September. But reconciliation stalled again because of a dispute over sites for three scheduled meetings this month. The talks were all canceled.

North Korea insisted on holding all talks at Diamond Mountain, a resort area in the North. It said its delegations could not travel safely in South Korea, which put its military on alert following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.

South Korea rejected the proposal, saying it departed from the custom of alternately playing host to talks. It said the increased state of alert had nothing to do with North Korea, although the country is on a U.S. list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

The Koreas were split into the communist North and the pro-Western South in 1945. The 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty.
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