Nuclear weapons issues are expected to figure prominently in talks between North and South Korea, slated to begin next Wednesday. Seoul made a surprise announcement Monday that it would dispatch a special envoy to the North Korean capital to restart stalled dialogue.

Lim Dong-won, South Korea's special envoy to North Korea, told reporters in Seoul late Monday that he plans to raise the issue of the North's suspected nuclear weapons program.

But the main issue will be how to restart dialogue, which hit a high when the Korean leaders held a summit in June 2000. The two nations agreed to confidence building measures as a path toward eventual reunification. But that fledgling cooperation has faltered as tension rose between North Korea and Seoul's main ally, the United States.

President Bush declared in January that Pyongyang was part of an axis of evil, together with Iran and Iraq, which is intent on developing weapons of mass destruction. Mr. Bush has taken a tough approach to North Korea since taking office last year, but has been pushing for talks with Pyongyang.

Mr. Lim plans to encourage North Korean officials to engage in a new dialogue with the United States.

Analyst Bob Broadfoot of the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy in Hong Kong believes Mr. Lim must succeed to save Seoul's policy of engaging North Korea.

"I think Mr. Kim's sunshine policy has been stalled and he is starting to be perceived as a lame duck for his remaining period in office, which ends at the end of this year," he said. "So if he is going to get some momentum again, he has got to get North Korea and the U.S. to talk and that is not going to happen if only the U.S. has to take the initiative."

Mr. Lim is considered the chief architect of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung's so-called Sunshine policy of engagement with Pyongyang.

One of the main obstacles to better relations is U.S. military support for South Korea. There are 37,000 U.S. troops in the South prepared to defend against a possible attack by the communist North.