South Korean envoy leaves North after failing to get visit with leader

Strategist had sought to resolve nuclear crisis


SEOUL, South Korea - South Korea's top strategist for North Korea, Lim Dong Won, returned here yesterday from a two-day mission to Pyongyang after failing to obtain a crucial appointment with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il.

Lim, who has engineered South Korea's so-called sunshine policy of reconciliation with the North on behalf of President Kim Dae Jung, said it might have been the last chance under Kim Dae Jung's presidency to resolve the nuclear crisis. Kim Dae Jung steps down Feb. 25 and turns the government over to Roh Moo Hyun, also dedicated to a peaceful solution.

A measure of the failure of Lim's mission, analysts here said, was that he also did not manage to meet the top North Korean diplomat on nuclear issues, while spending most of his time discussing North-South relations.

Lim and his eight-person party reportedly waited until the early hours of yesterday before receiving word that Kim Jong Il would not see them. The North Korean leader relayed the word through a deputy that he was "traveling" in the country, said an official at South Korea's unification ministry.

Lim received the news that Kim would not see him shortly before President Bush, in his State of the Union address, denounced the North's "oppressive regime" as one that "rules living in fear and starvation" and declared the United States would not be "blackmailed."

The comment, while it might have appeared tough to some observers, came as a relief to South Korean officials, who believe Bush might have damaged chances for reconciliation last year by calling North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and Iran.

Lim, on returning to Seoul from Pyongyang, noted that Bush had "re-emphasized the principle that the nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through diplomatic effort."

Bush's remarks on North Korea, toward the end of his address, were "considerably toned down" from last year, a foreign ministry official said, noting that Bush had referred to "the possible benefits once North Korea takes steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons program."

North Korea did not respond directly to Bush's speech. But soon after it was delivered, the North's official news agency released a commentary saying Washington was using the nuclear dispute as a pretext to destroy the communist country.

Underscoring the tension, analysts in South Korea said Kim Jong Il decided not to receive Lim because he had made it clear in meetings with high North officials that the South Korean had little new to offer.

"North Korea is hoping something new would be brought by Lim Dong Won," said Koh Byung Chul, director of Far Eastern studies at Kyongnam University here.

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