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South Korean Official to Warn North Over Nuclear Weapons Program - 2002-10-19

A South Korean government cabinet minister has arrived in North Korea, saying he will warn the North to abandon its recently-revealed nuclear weapons program. At the same time, a top-ranking U.S. diplomat is in Seoul to discuss the issue with officials there.

South Korean Unification Minister Jeong Se-Hyun says he will tell North Korea that it risks a confrontation with the United States if it fails to abandon its nuclear program. Mr. Jeong spoke Saturday before his departure for Pyongyang, where he is due to hold three days of meetings with North Korean officials.

The minister says his priority is to learn more about the North's nuclear program and whether it is willing to discuss the matter. The original purpose of Mr. Jeong's visit, which was arranged some time ago, was to discuss joint economic projects. But the plans have been overshadowed by reports from Washington that Pyongyang has admitted it has a uranium-enrichment project in the works.

Mr. Jeong says he will still discuss economic ties with his counterparts in Pyongyang. His ministry issued a statement saying that ships carrying building materials and equipment for cross-border transport links had left for the North on Saturday.

The South Korean official's mission to promote reconciliation between the two former enemies will be hindered by the hostile public reaction following news about North Korea's nuclear program. It has reduced public support for Seoul's policy of engaging the North.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, James Kelly, arrived in Seoul Saturday, the second stop on a visit to all three of North Korea's neighbors, to discuss possible joint strategy for dealing with the nuclear issue. Mr. Kelly earlier held two days of talks with Chinese officials in Beijing, and is scheduled to depart for Tokyo, and talks with Japanese leaders, on Sunday.