A high-level economic delegation from North Korea has arrived in South Korea to study that country's market economy. Pyongyang is trying to keep its approaches to the outside world alive, despite the revelation of its secret nuclear weapons program.
An 18-member survey team, which includes a brother-in-law of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, arrived in Seoul Saturday for a close-up look at South Korea's industrial sector. A steel mill, computer chip plants, an auto assembly line and container ports are on the delegation's agenda.
The visit is being seen as part of North Korea's cautious engagement with its long-time foe, at a time when the communist state is beginning to experiment with Chinese-style market reforms.
The unusual visit, scheduled for some time, results from a broad agreement in August that revived stalled reconciliation talks between the two Koreas.
North Korea is also preparing for talks next week with Japanese officials in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. Those talks are intended to move the two nations toward normalization of relations.
But since the revelation of Pyongyang's secret nuclear weapons program last week, Tokyo has been indicating that no ties will be established unless North Korea dismantles the program. Japan's chief negotiator, Katsunari Suzuki, is quoted in the Saturday edition of the English-language Japan Times as saying North Korea will get no foreign aid, and no diplomatic ties with Japan, if it does not abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The United States, in concert with North Korea's neighbors, is also applying pressure on Pyongyang. President Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin, meeting in Texas on Friday, called on North Korea to halt the nuclear program. The United States has been demanding an immediate and visible end to the program.
Earlier Friday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry said it would give up such development if Washington is willing to sign a non-aggression treaty and recognize North Korea's sovereignty.
A top official of Russia, another of North Korea's neighbors, has meanwhile downplayed the importance of the nuclear program. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Friday that he does not believe North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons poses a threat to the outside world.
Mr. Kasyanov was speaking ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Leaders of the United States, Japan and South Korea were to meet in the Mexican resort town on Saturday to search for a common strategy for dealing with the North Korean situation.