Wed 25 Sep, 2002 05:14 pm
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is planning to send a high-level envoy to North Korea to put to the test recent commitments from Pyongyang to open a dialogue about the North's missile program and alleged weapons proliferation.
Senior Bush administration told CNN Wednesday that Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly would be dispatched to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, soon.
Both South Korea and Japan have urged the White House to resume discussions with the North, a country U.S. President George W. Bush has labeled part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and Iran.
The move follows meetings between Jack Pritchard, the U.S. State Department's top man on North Korea, and North Korean representatives on Monday and Tuesday in New York, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
He said an announcement on a visit would be made "at an appropriate time"; administration officials said it could come later today.
President Bush has talked with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung about the discussions, Boucher said.
The United States had previously proposed a Kelly visit to North Korea in July, but the offer was rescinded after a naval encounter in the Yellow Sea between the two Koreas, along with Pyongyang's delay on finalizing the trip.
In July, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had a 15-minute informal meeting with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun while at a meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in Brunei.
The encounter was the first high-level meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials since Bush's "axis of evil" comments last January.
In the meeting, Powell said North Korea's apology for the naval incident was encouraging, and Paek also indicated North Korea was open to talks with the United States.
Powell also told Paek that any talks between the two countries would need to address North Korean weapons proliferation, compliance with previous agreements between the two governments and deployment of conventional forces.
Powell is expected to make a trip to Seoul for a meeting of the Community of Democracies in November, but officials said he is unlikely to stop in North Korea.
There have been a number of developments in the past six weeks that indicate North Korea and its reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il, are seeking improved ties with the outside world -- including a call from Pyongyang on Wednesday for bilateral talks.
The North in recent weeks has resumed work on reconnecting roads and rail lines with South Korea, and stunned Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during a recent visit by admitting and apologizing for the abductions of 13 Japanese.
The more things change ...
There is more than one possible explanation of improving transportation facilities to a hostile border. Just had to throw that out there.