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Top US Diplomat Departs on Asian Mission - 2002-10-01

A top U.S. diplomat has left Washington on an Asian mission that will take him to North Korea for the Bush administration's first senior-level contacts with authorities in Pyongyang. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is due in North Korea Thursday, after stops in Japan and South Korea.

The administration had made clear its interest in dialogue with North Korea, even though President Bush listed that country, along with Iraq and Iran, as part of an "axis of evil" last January.

Mid-level U.S. and North Korean diplomats have held several meetings in recent months in New York. And Secretary of State Colin Powell helped open the way to Mr. Kelly's mission with an informal talk with North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Nam-Sun in July at a regional conference in Brunei.

Officials here say Mr. Kelly will be in Pyongyang Thursday through Saturday, but that it is not clear whether he will meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il.

The assistant secretary will consult with officials in Tokyo and Seoul before beginning his talks in Pyongyang, and is to stop in Japan and South Korea on his way back to Washington, reflecting the close coordination of North Korea policy among the three allies.