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S. Korean Diplomat Fails to Meet with Kim Jong Il

A South Korean presidential envoy returns to Seoul Wednesday after a three-day mission to North Korea to resolve an international dispute over that nation's nuclear activities. His expected face-to-face meeting with Northern leader Kim Jong Il did not take place, disappointing the South Korean government.

South Korean envoy Lim Dong-won says North Korean officials told him that the stand-off over the North's nuclear weapons development can only be resolved through direct talks with the United States.

Mr. Lim says the officials repeated a demand for a non-aggression treaty with Washington, which the U.S. has already rejected. Mr. Lim also said finding a peaceful solution would be a very long and gradual process.

The North has stuck firmly to its position of direct negotiations since the crisis began in October when Pyongyang revealed to Washington it had a secret nuclear weapons program - an admission it now denies.

The envoy did not meet with the Northern leader Kim Jong Il himself, as the South Koreans had expected. His aides said he was not available. Through the North Korean officials he was able to meet, however, Mr. Lim passed a message from the South's President Kim Dae-jung conveying the world's concerns.

Many South Korean political analysts say Mr. Kim is the only person in the North with the authority to take decisive action on the nuclear issue.

Mr. Lim's failure to meet with the North's leader could block Seoul's efforts to help end the crisis.

In Washington, President Bush said in his State of the Union address that North Korea will not "blackmail" the world into granting concessions for its nuclear programs.

He also labeled Kim Jong Il's government an "oppressive regime" that "rules a people living in fear and starvation."

North Korea has reportedly rejected a recent Russian proposal that urged it to abide by international agreements on its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and a resumption of humanitarian and economic aid.

The proposal also suggested establishing an international group of governments to work together to end the crisis.

But according to Russian news agency Interfax, a North Korean Foreign Ministry statement says that the country will not take part in multilateral talks and will only hold direct talks on equal terms with the United States. Washington has said it is willing to talk with the North, but the two sides have yet to agree to hold a meeting.

In the last two months, Pyongyang has ejected nuclear inspectors, removed seals from an old reactor capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium and pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, raising concerns around the world.