SEOUL: The top US envoy for Asia said yesterday that Washington was willing to talk to communist North Korea and would even address its energy shortages if the nuclear crisis could be resolved.
While Washington insists it is not prepared to negotiate new terms to resolve the standoff, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, visiting South Korea, indicated the US Government had not abandoned pre-crisis plans to help the impoverished North.
“We are of course willing to talk,” he said in the capital, Seoul. “Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the US, with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area.”
Kelly's task is complicated by rising anti-US sentiment in the South, where increasing numbers of people are taking a critical look at the half-century bilateral relationship and are keen for more of a say in policy on the Korean peninsula.
“We're will talk to the government people here on the best ways to do that,” Kelly told reporters after talks with President-elect Roh Moo-hyun.
“The important thing is North Korea-US dialogue,” President Kim Dae-jung told former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori, stressing the South's opposition to communism and weapons of mass destruction.
“I believe there is no problem that can't be solved through dialogue,” said Kim, who adopted a “sunshine” policy of engaging the North.
North Korea's latest brinkmanship to force the United States to the negotiating table began last month when Pyongyang threw out UN nuclear inspectors.
North Korea, which the US suspects of developing nuclear arms and has branded part of an “axis of evil” with Iraq and Iran, last week pulled out of a global treaty aimed at preventing the spread of atomic weapons and said it was free to resume missile-firing tests.
It heaped abuse on the United States over the weekend, saying its people could disappear in “a sea of fire” and again denying it had ever admitted to a nuclear weapons programme.
Kelly called the hardline anti-US rhetoric and threats to restart missile tests “a little mystifying” and repeated US statements that Pyongyang's diplomats covered no new ground in weekend talks in New Mexico with the former US ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson.
“It was a little disappointing because we really hadn't heard anything from the North Koreans,” he said.
Richardson urged the Bush administration on Sunday to open talks with Pyongyang to defuse the nuclear crisis.
Kelly arrived in Seoul on Sunday for his first visit to the region since October, when he visited Pyongyang and said after meetings with officials that the North had admitted enriching uranium in a covert nuclear arms programme. – Reuters