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South Korea's Unification Minister Heads to US


South Korea's chief policymaker on North Korea heads to Washington this week. He is expected to seek a meeting of the minds with some of Pyongyang's sharpest U.S. critics on how to deal with North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

Less than two weeks after his lunch with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young is to leave Wednesday for Washington.

No agenda for his trip has been made public, but South Korean officials say Mr. Chung hopes to meet with Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney recently called Kim Jong Il an "irresponsible leader," the type of language Pyongyang likes to refer to in complaining that the Bush Administration has a "hostile attitude."

The North Korean official media responded by calling the vice president a "bloodthirsty beast." Neither comment signaled the imminent resumption of the stalled six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs.

The position of the South Korean government is that a less confrontational approach by Washington might succeed in bringing North Korea back to the talks, where strong language has failed.

Yang Jong-hwa, a Unification ministry spokesperson, says Mr. Chung will stay until Friday to brief senior U.S. officials on his recent meeting with Kim Jong Il and to try to bring Washington around to Seoul's way of thinking.

"He will explain our South Korean positions…based on the achievements of his meeting with Chairman Kim [Jong Il] and the fifth round of inter-Korean ministerial level talks," she said.

Minister Chung hosted inter-Korean talks in Seoul last week, shortly after his meeting with Mr. Kim in Pyongyang. The inter-Korean talks failed to set a specific date for the resumption of the nuclear talks, but Mr. Kim told Mr. Chung he was ready to return to the negotiations in short order - if the United States showed North Korea proper respect.

At a summit this month with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, President Bush affirmed his commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the North Korean issue. He has also used the polite phrase "Mr. Kim" several times to refer to the North Korean leader.

Chun Chaesung, a North Korea expert at Seoul National University, says tough talk by Vice President Cheney and other administration officials causes confusion about Mr. Bush's real position. "The perception of the South Korean government - I don't know if it's true or not - Bush is sometimes 'misled' or 'confused' by hard-liners in the White House," he said.

Professor Chun says Mr. Chung is likely to urge hard-liners like Mr. Cheney to take Pyongyang at its word, at least for the time being, and see if the results are positive.

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