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US has no intention of attacking North Korea, says Rice

AFP | March 20, 2005

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday Washington had no intention of attacking North Korea, and urged the communist state to drop its nuclear weapons ambitions.

"We have absolutely no desire to attack North Korea," Rice said in a round-table discussion with Internet-based South Korean journalists, which was broadcast live by Internet Portal Media Daum.

"We understand that North Korea is a sovereign state ... North Korea does not need to worry the United States intends to attack it," she said.

The US secretary of state urged North Korea to make a "strategic choice" to abandon its nuclear ambitions and return to six-nation nuclear talks.

"They need to come and say we have decided that our interests, North Koreans' interests, are best served by an end to a nuclear weapons program," she said.

Rice arrived in South Korea from Japan on Saturday as a part of her six-nation tour of Asia, with her agenda here focusing on bringing defiant North Korea back to the dialogue table.

On Sunday she meets South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun, Unification Minister Chung Dong-Young and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon.

Seoul is the fifth leg of Rice's Asian trip. She already visited India, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan and was scheduled to leave for China later in the day.

In Tokyo Rice made a similar call for the North to return to stalled negotiations on its disarmament that involve the United States, Japan, Russia, China and the two Koreas.

The talks aim to persuade the North to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for diplomatic and economic benefits.

North Korea last took part in the talks in June 2004. It declared on February 10 that it has nuclear weapons and that it was indefinitely suspending its participation in the dialogue.

Pyongyang has demanded that Rice apologize for calling it an "outpost of tyranny" but the top US diplomat has refused to do so.

Rice's meeting with Internet-based journalists at a Seoul hotel was disrupted by a lone protestor opposed to North Korea's Stalinist regime.

Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor turned human rights activist, brandished as poster demanding freedom and an end to oppression in North Korea and called for more aid to the nation's people.

"These people are dying. They are crying for your help," he shouted before being escorted out of the meeting by security guards.

Rice's arrival in Seoul coincided with the start of major annual US-South Korean military exercises which North Korea claims are a prelude to war.

Some 32,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea under a mutual defense treaty aimed at deterring possible aggression from the North.

Rice flew by helicopter to a bunker on the southern outskirts of Seoul Saturday, the command post for the exercises involving some 17,000 US troops and an unspecified number of South Korean troops.

"Thank you for what you do every day in the front line of freedom," Rice told some 300 people including US and South Korean soldiers at the bunker.

The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk and its battle group arrived at the southeastern port of Busan a week before the drills with 5,200 sailors and 60 aircraft, including F-18 Super Hornets.

A US Striker unit -- a rapid task force with armored vehicles -- is also taking part.

The drill focuses on a mock battle aimed at evaluating joint command capabilities to receive US forces from abroad with US-South Korean troops mobilized for anti-commando operations and computer war games.

North Korea has reacted nervously.

"The projected exercises are extremely dangerous nuclear war drills to mount a preemptive attack on the DPRK (North Korea)," the North's official mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency said on Friday.

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