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North Korea Wants An Answer

North Korea pressed Monday for a U.S. response to its "bold proposal" for settling tensions over its suspected nuclear weapons development and warned it would continue to bolster its military until Washington drops its hostile attitude.

North Korea floated a proposal to settle the nuclear crisis last month in talks in Beijing.

It has not publicly elaborated on the offer. U.S. officials say the North asked for massive economic assistance in return for scrapping its nuclear activities. The State Department has also indicated the North seeks formal diplomatic recognition by the United States.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has said the United States was reviewing the deal.

U.S. officials say that during the Beijing talks, North Korea claimed it had nuclear weapons and was contemplating exporting or using them, depending on U.S. actions.

Washington has repeatedly said the North must first end its nuclear activities before it is rewarded with economic aid.

However, the Bush administration appears to be shifting strategy, reports The New York Times, from trying to prevent Pyongyang from producing the bomb to simply stopping the communist country from selling any weapons.

"If the U.S. does not positively respond to the DPRK's bold proposal, it will be held accountable for scuttling all efforts for dialogue and seriously straining the situation," said Rodong Sinmun, a state newspaper in Pyongyang. The DPRK is the acronym for the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, or North Korea.

"The DPRK will mobilize all its potentials to bolster the war deterrent force in every way as long as the U.S. keeps pursuing its hostile policy toward the DPRK," it said.

Separately, North Korea warned Monday that Washington's renewed labeling of the communist state as a sponsor of terrorism will aggravate the nuclear standoff.

The United States last Wednesday named seven countries — Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Syria and Sudan — as sponsors of terrorism during 2002. The same countries were listed last year.

The seven nations are banned from receiving U.S. weapons and U.S. economic aid, and effectively prevented from receiving World Bank loans.

"The U.S. smear campaign against the DPRK will only make the settlement of the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the U.S. more complicated and aggravate the situation," said an unidentified spokesman at the North's Foreign Ministry, according to the North's KCNA news agency.

The nuclear crisis flared late last year when Washington said North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 treaty.

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