Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

N. Korea Assures US on Talks, but Summit with South Is Off

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

N. Korea Assures US on Talks, but Summit with South Is Off

Article excerpt

IN some of its first external communications since the death of President Kim Il Sung, North Korea's government struck a much more forthcoming tone with the United States than with South Korea.

The disparity may provide an indication of where the new regime's priorities lie.

Kim's death put two key diplomatic encounters on hold: a third round of talks between the North and the US aimed at resolving international concerns over North Korea's alleged nuclear weapons program, and an unprecedented meeting between the leaders of the two Korean states that was set to take place July 25.

The North assured the US that the nuclear talks would continue. Its top negotiator on the issue, Kang Sok Ju, told US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Galluci that the North would be in touch as soon as appropriate negotiations could be restarted, probably in New York.

The US responded yesterday with relief and even enthusiasm. The resumption of talks, said a senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, is "a virtual certainty.... This is good news."

The South Koreans got shorter shrift: A one-sentence message was received by the government in Seoul yesterday announcing the postponement of the summit, but without further elaboration.

Speaking with reporters here yesterday, South Korean Foreign Minister Han Sung Joo said he did not think the summit plan had been forced all the way back to square one. "Maybe we will go back to square two," he offered. Mr. Han argued that "the idea, the principle, the spirit of the agreement {remains} very much valid." Recovering the momentum

"Even though North Korea considers the summit meeting as having been postponed, and we keep the door open, we don't know when that can be held," Han said. "The momentum has to be resurrected, and we hope that the leadership of North Korea will cooperate."

Referring to concerns that the succession to power of Kim's son, Kim Jong Il, would force an abandonment of the steps toward openness that Kim Il Sung took in meetings with former President Jimmy Carter last month, Han argued that "the best bet ... would be that we probably will not see any drastic change in the policy of the government, but of course, that's only a bet."

Kim Jong Il's ascension to his father's post seemed more certain yesterday. …

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