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South Korean Envoy Travels to Pyongyang to Discuss Nuclear Crisis - 2003-01-27

An envoy representing South Korean President Kim Dae-jung is in Pyongyang for talks on ending an international dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. He carries a letter from the president to the North's leader, Kim Jong Il.

The delegation of South Korean envoy Lim Dong-won arrived in North Korea Monday to try to negotiate a freeze on North Korea's nuclear weapons development. He is expected to meet with the North's leader Kim Jong Il and other top officials.

Before leaving Seoul, Mr. Lim told reporters he carries a message from President Kim Dae-jung urging Pyongyang to immediately halt its nuclear program - a request the South has made repeatedly.

Mr. Lim said the aim of his mission is to open dialogue on the nuclear issue. He stressed that he will express the international community's concerns, but warned a quick resolution was not in sight.

The crisis started in October, when Pyongyang confirmed to U.S. officials that it had a secret program to develop nuclear weapons - an admission it now denies. It has since kicked out U.N. weapons inspectors and withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, moves that have alarmed countries around the world.

Japan, one of North Korea's most influential neighbors, underscores its support for the South Korean mission.

Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said Monday that Tokyo welcomes the envoy's trip and believes continued dialogue with the Stalinist North is important.

South Korea and the United States also emphasize the need for discussions and a peaceful solution to the stand-off. However, the United States is pushing to put the case before the United Nations Security Council, a request that must come from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency. That agency remains undecided.

The North reiterated Monday through its official media its position that it wants to negotiate directly with the United States. The North wants the United States to sign a non-aggression treaty, a request Washington has already turned down. Both countries say they are willing to hold direct talks but none have been scheduled.

Separately, North Korea made a concession Monday during talks on the establishment of inter-Korean rail and road links. It recognized the authority of the United States-led U.N. command over transportation routes and signed a tentative accord on cross-border passages.

Previous plans to open links were held up by Pyongyang's refusal to recognize the U.N. command's authority.