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N. Korea FM: Talks with US Could Reopen - 2002-08-01

North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun says he is confident the United States will send an envoy to Pyongyang. Foreign Minister Paek says Pyongyang and Washington will reopen their stalled dialogue and that he expects Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to visit the North. He says a date for the meeting had not yet been set and that the time will be decided by the United States.

Mr. Paek's comments follow his breakthrough meeting Wednesday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. They met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Regional Forum in Brunei. Their brief encounter was that highest-level official contact between the two countries since January, when President Bush grouped North Korea with Iran and Iraq as being an axis of evil.

Despite the meeting, North Korea's state-run news agency issued an editorial Wednesday calling the United States the kingpin of evil and demanding the withdrawal of the 37,000 U.S. troops based in South Korea.

North Korea's foreign minister also met Wednesday with his Japanese counterpart, Yoriko Kawaguchi. The meeting at the forum was the two nations' first ministerial contact in two years. They agreed to hold a meeting of senior officials in Pyongyang to discuss setting up diplomatic ties. The meeting takes place around August 25.

In addition, Red Cross officials from the two countries will meet sometime this month. Mr. Paek tells reporters that his meeting with the Japanese foreign minister went well and calls its results satisfactory. Ms. Kawaguchi calls the meeting frank and significant and says it could lead to the next step in normalizing relations.

The main stumbling block to normal diplomatic ties is the alleged abductions of 11 Japanese by North Korea during the 1970s and '80s. Tokyo, like Washington, also is concerned about Pyongyang's development of missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

North Korea's initiatives toward Japan and the United States come a month after it fought a naval battle with South Korea. Last week, Pyongyang issued a rare statement of regret over the incident in the Yellow Sea, which killed sailors from both nations.

Some regional analysts say the recent diplomatic flurry shows that impoverished North Korea is reaching out to other nations for food and financial aid.