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President Clinton said Monday he found "hopeful signs" in former President Jimmy Carter's talks with North Korea but said the communist regime must freeze its nuclear program as promised.

"We will evaluate words in terms of actions," he told NBC.Clinton said administration officials are trying to confirm North Korea's willingness to keep its promises to Carter, including freezing its nuclear program, allowing international inspectors to stay and holding an unprecedented summit with South Korean President Kim Young-sam.

Carter, who feared Clinton's push toward sanctions would lead to war, briefed White House officials Sunday on his trip. He declared afterward, "The crisis is over." But administration officials were much less optimistic.

"There may be an opening here," Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gallucci, the State Department's top official on North Korea, said Sunday.

"There's much that could be there" in North Korea's proposals on ending the crisis, he said.

Carter returned with a series of proposals from North Korean President Kim Il Sung, including a drastic reduction in troops on the peninsula and removal of weapons along the demilitarized zone.

A senior administration official, insisting on anonymity, said Carter's trip leaves the White House operating on two tracks: Continue its push toward sanctions in the United Nations; and try to confirm North Korea's resolve to keep its promises.

In a sharp difference with Clinton, Carter said North Korea does not fear sanctions because little trade is allowed now. "But they do have concerns - I think to the point of war - about being branded as an outlaw nation and about the insult they think this would be to their Great Leader," Carter said Sunday.

Carter, who returned from North Korea on Saturday, met for more than two hours with Gallucci, national security adviser Tony Lake, Assistant Secretary of State for Asia Winston Lord and others. During the meeting, he talked by phone for a half-hour with Clinton, who was at Camp David.

"The crisis is going to keep coming for weeks," Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said on CNN. But he said Carter's trip fostered a "stepping back from the escalation of tensions."