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North Korea invites EU to dialogue on missiles

North Korea invites EU to dialogue on missiles

North Korea invited the European Union for talks on its controversial missile programme on Thursday, saying the new U.S. administration was trying to avoid the issue.

Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Su-hon said he had presented new ideas to Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson for dialogue between Pyongyang and the EU on the North Korean missiles, which Washington says could reach U.S. territory equipped with warheads.

He did not elaborate.

The threat of long-range missile attack from so-called "rogue states" such as North Korea is behind U.S. plans - questioned in many European capitals - for a high-tech defence shield dubbed NMD (National Missile Defence) intended to destroy inbound missiles long before they hit their targets.

Last October, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang to work out a deal under which North Korea would stop producing and selling ballistic missiles in exchange for foreign assistance in launching satellites.

"During the visit of Mrs Albright much progress had been achieved in missile talks. At that time we had proposed very reasonable ideas," Choi told Reuters in an interview.

"We made it clear that we are quite willing to solve the missile issue through this process," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

"But the new administration in the United States, they are trying to avoid discussions on this matter," he added.

President George W. Bush took over the White House in January from Bill Clinton, who said only a week before leaving office he expected the incoming administration to seal a missiles deal with North Korea within a few months.

Earlier this month Colin Powell, the new U.S. Secretary of State, said the United States may ask North Korea to negotiate a reduction in the size of its armed forces and that Washington might also want to change some provisions in a Clinton-era agreement that froze North Korea's nuclear programme.

EU WANTS DIALOGUE

While Washington stalled, "many countries from the European Union expressed new interest to have a dialogue," Choi said.

Choi, on a two-day visit to Stockholm, met Persson for half an hour and said the Swedish prime minister was "warmly welcome" to visit North Korea - an invitation eagerly sought by Sweden, which hopes the EU could contribute to the process of reconciliation between North and South Korea.

"As regards the suggestions raised by European Union countries, I informed Sweden as the presidency of the European Union...that we are willing to have a dialogue on the missile issue with the European Union, too," he said.

Diplomats say the EU may wish to tread such a path cautiously to avoid a widening rift in already fragile transatlantic relations caused by differences in opinion over NMD and lingering European fears that Bush may scale back the U.S. military presence in trouble spots such as the Balkans.

Choi said North Korea's military build-up was "to defend our national dignity and national independence.

"There are so many missiles and nuclear weapons deployed around the Korean peninsula which are targeted against our republic. We have prepared to counter any kind of attacks," he said.

He also pointed to North Korea's commercial satellite capacity and said it had the rockets needed to launch them into space.

"In 1998 we launched a satellite with our own technology. We have prepared to launch satellites, something like a telecommunications satellite, a weather observation satellite and we have the satellites and the carrying means for these satellites," Choi said.


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