2 Koreas plan talks about nuclear crisis

Special envoy from South to meet early next week with leaders from North


SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea will dispatch a special envoy to North Korea early next week to discuss the nuclear crisis with the North's leaders, the Seoul government said yesterday.

Diplomats said the envoy would also invite North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to hold talks with South Korea's president-elect, Roh Moo Hyun, after Roh takes office Feb. 25.

The announcement was the latest in a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at defusing a crisis that began in October when North Korea admitted it was trying to produce enriched uranium - which can be used for atomic weapons - in violation of an international agreement.

"This is a bit of a surprise, but a pleasant one," one senior South Korean official said, referring to the prospect of talks and speaking on condition of anonymity.

The Bush administration welcomed the news but continued to push for the United Nations Security Council to consider imposing sanctions on North Korea.

"We have always supported the talks between North Korea and South Korea," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "We think these dialogues serve as important channels to resolve issues of bilateral concern and to call upon North Korea to quickly and visibly respond to the international community's demands for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula."

The Bush administration has demanded repeatedly that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program but has refused to negotiate over the issue. It called again yesterday for the subject to go before the Security Council.

"This is a serious matter, and we think the Security Council needs to take up the issue, because it's a matter involving international peace and security," Boucher said.

In Vienna, Austria, the U.N.-sponsored International Atomic Energy Agency said it would hold an emergency session Feb. 3 to consider putting the North Korean crisis before the Security Council, which could impose sanctions on the country.

Lim Dong Won, a senior aide to outgoing South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, will visit Pyongyang on Monday, along with a representative of the incoming Roh government. The South Koreans will be allowed to fly directly to Pyongyang, without the usual stopover in China.

The surprise announcement came hours after Kim Dae Jung criticized the Bush administration, telling a farewell lunch for foreign reporters that even President Ronald Reagan, who had called the Soviet Union an "evil empire," negotiated with Russian leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The move yesterday was the clearest sign yet that the Roh administration will seek a more central role in finding a solution to the nuclear crisis.

Pyongyang has forced international inspectors to abandon its nuclear facilities and has pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Lim, one of Kim Dae Jung's closest aides, is expected to stay in the North Korean capital two or three days, a government spokesman said, but it's not clear whether Lim will meet directly with North Korea's leader. Lim visited Pyongyang in April and returned saying Kim Jong Il had expressed interest in talks with the United States.

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