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N. KOREA TO SIGN NUCLEAR SAFEGUARDS

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North Korea has told the International Atomic Energy Agency it will sign a U.N. safeguards agreement this month to prevent nuclear proliferation, the agency said Monday.

The accord will open secret nuclear facilities in North Korea - suspected of being within a year or two of producing atomic bombs - to international inspection. North Korea denies it is trying to make nuclear weapons.An IAEA statement said North Korea's ambassador to Austria "informed the director general of the IAEA that his government will sign the safeguards agreement . . . pursuant to its obligation under the Non-proliferation Treaty."

Ambassador Chon In-chan told the agency the agreement would be signed before the end of January and that early ratification of the agreement would follow, the statement added. The ambassador has scheduled a news conference for Tuesday in Vienna.

President Bush said in South Korea Monday that the United States was willing to cancel annual joint military exercises with South Korea if Pyongyang submitted to inspections.

The United States has said it will not proceed with plans to recall U.S. troops stationed in South Korea until North Korea ratifies the IAEA pact.

The administration also said Monday that North Korea rebuffed its initial overture to help advance new efforts to bring the Korean War to a formal end.

National security adviser Brent Scowcroft, traveling with Bush, said the administration had proposed a "modest upgrade" in U.S. dialogue with North Korea.

"They said no" over the weekend, Scowcroft told reporters prior to a joint news conference by Bush and South Korean President Roh Tae-woo on trade and security issues.

The United States has no relations with North Korea other than having had 16 low-level talks in Beijing since 1988.

South and North Korea last month signed a pact of reconciliation and non-aggression after 40 years of Cold War hostility. But Seoul wants the nuclear issue settled before both prime ministers meet in Pyongyang next month to sign a treaty banning nuclear weapons from the peninsula.