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South Korean Envoy Leaves for Washington, Tokyo - 2003-02-02

A South Korean envoy left Sunday for Washington and Tokyo to push for a peaceful settlement of the row over North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

South Korean President-elect Roh Moo-hyun dispatched the envoy Sunday to explain his policies on North Korea to Seoul's key allies.

The envoy, legislator Chyung Dai-chul, is set to meet Secretary of States Colin Powell and other top officials during his four-day visit to the United States. He will also deliver a letter from Mr. Roh to President Bush. Later in the week, Mr. Chyung will visit Japan and is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Mr. Roh, who will be inaugurated as president later this month, favors resolving the nuclear crisis through dialogue with North Korea. He supports the so-called "sunshine" policy of engagement designed by incumbent President Kim Dae-jung.

Washington also wants a peaceful solution the issue, but it is pushing for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue. If it does so, the result could be economic sanctions or even military action against North Korea.

North Korea says sanctions would be tantamount to a declaration of war. It has repeatedly called for the United States to sign a non-aggression pact. Washington rejects the idea, although it says it has no plans to attack North Korea and is willing to hold talks with Pyongyang.

The dispute was sparked in October when Washington said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret nuclear program, in violation of several international accords. The North has since denied making the admission. But it has removed seals at its Yongbyon nuclear plant, expelled U.N. weapons inspectors and withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

U.S. news reports say satellite images recently showed trucks being loaded at the Yongbyon facility north of Pyongyang. The reports say that could indicate spent nuclear fuel rods, which can be converted into weapons-grade plutonium, are being moved. However, some analysts warn the move could be a bluff to push U.S. officials to negotiate with the isolated, Stalinist state.