President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun agreed Thursday to seek multilateral talks concerning North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program — again rejecting Pyongyang's call for direct talks with Washington.
Earlier, South Korea's Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun said U.S.-proposed multilateral talks may begin "in a near future."
Mr. Bush and Roh also reaffirmed during their Thursday telephone conversation that North Korea must end its nuclear programs irreversibly and verifiably, the South Korean presidential office said.
"The two leaders expressed their firm belief that they could find through multilateral talks the key to peacefully resolving North Korea's nuclear issue," said a statement from Roh's office.
The statement did not say who would be involved in those talks.
However, a White House spokesman said that the next round of multi-lateral talks with North Korea should also include South Korea and Japan, in addition to the U.S. and China, reports CBS News Correspondent Mark Knoller.
In recent days, South Korean officials have expressed optimism that the United States, North Korea and China will meet in Beijing, possibly next month, to discuss how to end the crisis over North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons program.
U.S. and North Korean officials have met only once since the nuclear dispute flared in October, when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted having a secret program in violation of international agreements.
The United States considers the North's nuclear ambitions a regional threat and has insisted on multilateral talks including South Korea and Japan, two key U.S. allies in the region, and possibly Russia.
North Korea wants a one-on-one meeting with Washington and says it will not give up its nuclear ambitions unless the United States agrees to sign a nonaggression treaty and provide economic aid.
"The present U.S. administration is at pains to internationalize the nuclear issue that should find a fundamental solution through the direct negotiations between the DPRK and the U.S.," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
DPRK is the acronym for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
The spokesman also accused the United States of plotting a nuclear attack and said North Korea is compelled to "make as powerful weapons as them."
The statement was carried by the North's official KCNA news agency.
The United States and North Korea were working out terms for sitting down for talks, using the North's closest ally — China — as an intermediary, according to South Korean officials.