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South Korean President May Meet North Korean Delegates


Senior North Korean delegates visiting Seoul are reiterating that Pyongyang is ready to give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for friendly treatment by the United States. But the delegates concluded their second day of talks with no concrete date for resuming multilateral nuclear disarmament talks.

Senior officials from North Korea are scheduled Thursday to visit the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, amid reports of a possible meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun.

The North Korean delegates are in the South for inter-Korean cooperation talks, the first Seoul has hosted in a year. South Korean officials are using the occasion to press Pyongyang to commit to a resumption of talks aimed at ending its nuclear-weapons programs.

North Korea has boycotted the talks for a year with Russia, China, Japan, the United States, and South Korea. Despite past pledges not to build nuclear weapons, it has said it possesses an arsenal and plans to add to it.

Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il met personally with a senior South Korean official and told him the talks could resume as early as next month if the United States showed the North respect, but he did not define what this might entail.

North Korean delegates reinforced Mr. Kim's message in Seoul, saying the North would end its nuclear-weapons capabilities in exchange for friendly treatment by the United States.

On Tuesday, North Korean diplomats in New York reportedly told South Korean journalists the North would "come running" back to talks if Washington refrained from provocative descriptions of the North for a month.

Pyongyang has expressed anger at the Bush Administration's repeated descriptions of North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny." President Bush has made an apparent effort to take the edge off his rhetoric lately, referring to the North's leader more politely as "Mister Kim Jong Il."

Chun Chae-sung, a North Korea expert at Seoul National University, said that small gesture might have gone a long way. "'Mr. Kim Jong Il' did have a very good effect on North Korea. Maybe North Korea is too naïve - all their antennas, all their attentions are towards Washington. What are they saying? Are they threatening us, or not? So this rhetorical gesture might have a good effect," he said.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Europe this week. He is expected to urge Washington to avoid provocative rhetoric about North Korea.

In Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao met Wednesday with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan. The two leaders backed diplomacy as the best solution to the North Korean nuclear issue.

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