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US to Send Envoy to North Korea
The United States announced on Wednesday it would soon send an envoy to North Korea, boosting hopes that the reclusive state could come in from the cold.

A spokesman said President George W. Bush had passed on the news to South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, winner of a Nobel peace prize for his "sunshine policy" of trying to draw his northerly neighbour out of its international isolation.

"The president told President Kim that the United States would be sending an envoy to the north at an early date," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told a news briefing.

"The two leaders agreed that real progress with the North depends on full resolution of the security issues on the Korean peninsula, including the North's possession and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles," he added.

A senior U.S. official said separately that he expected Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly would visit Pyongyang in October.

Bush, who has branded North Korea part of "an axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran, initially put a policy of pursuing dialogue with Pyongyang on hold after he took office.

The Clinton administration strived to sign a landmark deal with North Korea in its dying months, but in the end its diplomatic highpoint was a visit by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Pyonyang.

The news of a visit by Kelly contributed to an atmosphere of optimism sparked by recent developments in North Korea, accused by Bush of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction even as its people starve.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency cited the communist newspaper Rodong Sinmun as saying: "The United States should squarely see the trend of the times and drop its hostile policy toward the Democratic People's Republic of Korea at an early date."


It added, according to KCNA: "This step will be hailed at home and abroad and open a new phase in the improvement of the bilateral relations."

Over the past six weeks, North Korea has stunned the world with a series of steps including initial moves to reconnect rail and road links through the heavily mined North-South border, steps to reform its moribund economy and moving to improve ties with long-time foes, notably Japan.

These developments clearly contributed to the U.S. announcement, along with meetings Monday and Tuesday in New York between U.S. envoy Jack Pritchard and the head of North Korea's mission to the United Nations, Pak Gil-yon.

A senior State Department official said separately that the discussions with North Korea, branded by Bush as part of an "axis of evil," focused on the question of a visit.

Famine, brutal political repression and many human rights abuses have been reported in North Korea, prompting comparisons with some of the worst excesses of the former Soviet Union.

But Secretary of State Colin Powell briefly met Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun during an Asian gathering in Brunei on July 31, becoming only the second U.S. cabinet member, after Albright, to meet a North Korean counterpart.

South Korea's Kim also pointed to changes on the divided peninsula and said regional relations with North Korea could improve dramatically if Pyongyang stopped clinging to its suspected weapons of mass destruction and embraced reforms.

He said the Korean peninsula -- bitterly divided since the 1950-53 Korean War -- was "undergoing truly radical changes."

(China Daily September 26, 2002)

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