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US Still Awaiting Word on N. Korea Dialogue - 2002-04-18

The U.S. ambassador to South Korea says Washington is still awaiting word from communist North Korea on resuming dialogue, despite some recent hints Pyongyang wants new talks.

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard says, while the recent visit to North Korea by South Korean presidential envoy Lim Dong-won was helpful, the United States has not received direct communication from Pyongyang on the resumption of talks. He says Washington is ready to talk to Pyongyang anytime, anywhere.

"We have not received direct communication from Pyongyang about sending [U.S. envoy for Korean affairs Jack] Pritchard or anyone else to North Korea," said Gerald McLaughlin, a spokesman for the American Embassy in Seoul. "We're really waiting to hear that."

Mr. Lim returned from the North a little more than a week ago, saying its leader, Kim Jong Il, was ready to restart stalemated talks with Washington and Seoul.

Ambassador Hubbard told South Korean reporters in Seoul, for the time being Washington will pursue the "New York" channel of contacts with North Korean diplomats stationed at the United Nations.

In Washington, visiting South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong made his own strongly worded call for U.S. engagement with the North. He said he understands U.S. mistrust of North Korea, but argues dialogue is necessary to halt Pyongyang's missile program and assure compliance with a 1994 deal aimed at halting the North's nuclear weapons program. Japan is also inching toward a dialogue with the North, but first insists on progress on the fate of at least 11 Japanese nationals allegedly kidnapped by Pyongyong decades ago for espionage purposes. Hitoshi Tanaka, a foreign ministry official, says he hopes the United States keeps the designation of North Korea as a country that supports terrorism and will not make political concessions to the North until the abduction issue has been resolved. That issue will be taken up at the end of the month in a meeting between the Red Cross societies of both countries in Beijing.