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S. Korean Scholars Hope Obama Administration Engages North

South Korean scholars say the incoming administration of Barack Obama should correct some mistakes - but also preserve some diplomatic strengths - of the Bush presidency when dealing with North Korea. VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Seoul.

A senior U.S. diplomatic official in Seoul says the embassy here is putting together a set of proposed options for adjusting North Korea policy under President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

Brian McFeeters is the Chief of the embassy's Political External Unit. He says his boss, U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens, is working on a paper to present to the incoming U.S. commander-in-chief.

"What it really does is it lays out kind of a roadmap for transforming the relationship with North Korea," he said. "That's something I am quite sure the new administration will want to do."

McFeeters was one of many panelists Wednesday at a Seoul conference devoted to recommending policy options to the new administration. He did not go into detail about the paper's exact contents, but said there will likely be three main areas of continuity in President Obama's dealings with the North.

"Six party talks denuclearization, the human rights focus, and concern for the North Korean people," said McFeeters.

The Obama administration will inherit a seat at a five-year multinational diplomatic process seeking to end North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities. There was a broad consensus at Wednesday's meeting Mr. Obama will also seek more robust diplomatic contacts with Pyongyang.

Cho Seong-ryul is a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy. He says Mr. Obama has an opportunity to correct some serious errors the Bush administration has made in dealing with North Korea.

He says the Bush administration was wrong to rescind a long-standing guarantee that the United States would never use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. He says that gave nations like North Korea and Iran an excuse to seek nuclear armaments of their own.

President Bush and senior U.S. officials have repeatedly offered both verbal and written assurances Washington has no intention of attacking North Korea. However, Cho recommends Mr. Obama make U.S. security guarantees even more explicit. He says there is also an opportunity to bolster North Korea's sense of economic security.

He says the Obama administration should enter talks with the North aimed at relaxing financial restrictions that keep North Korea isolated. He says that could help the North better integrate into the international community.

Suh Choo-suk, a senior fellow with the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, says keeping several key U.S. policy professionals in their jobs would be a good idea.

He says U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill should stay on as Washington's chief negotiator in the six party talks, to avoid what he calls a "vacuum" in the diplomatic process.