- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2001

SEOUL — North Korea proposed yesterday an early resumption of inter-Korean talks that have been stalled since March.

The sudden policy reversal, broadcast on Pyongyang Radio, said: "We propose that dialogue between North and South Korea reopen as soon as possible to open a wider road to reconciliation, unity and national unification."

It was signed by Im Dog Ok, a vice chairman of North Korea's Committee for Peaceful Unification of the Fatherland, a powerful semiofficial party organization that handles Pyongyang's policy regarding South Korea.

The proposal came on the eve of Chinese President Jiang Zemin's three-day visit to Pyongyang, the first by a Chinese leader in nine years. Chinese officials said Mr. Jiang was to urge North Korea to reopen dialogue with the South.

There was no immediate reaction from the South Korean government to the North Korean statement, but Chang Kwang-keun, a spokesman for the leading opposition Grand National Party, denounced the North's proposal as "an open attempt to meddle in our internal politics."

Analysts said the move did indeed appear more directly related to South Korean politics than to Mr. Jiang's trip or to Pyongyang's relations with Washington.

The message was addressed to South Korea's unification minister, Lim Dong-won, who faces a no-confidence vote in parliament today. Mr. Lim was instrumental in arranging last year's first-ever Koreas summit.

"Unification Minister Lim is one of the few South Korean dialogue partners North Korea can trust. North Korea can interpret his going away as a serious setback to inter-Korea relations," said Paik Seung-ki, a political science professor at Kyongwon University.

The no-confidence vote followed objections in the South to a weeklong visit to North Korea by 311 religious, civic and labor leaders two weeks ago.

Seven of the delegates were arrested on their return on charges of violating South Korea's anti-communist national security law by praising the North's government.

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has refused to dismiss Mr. Lim, a key architect of his "sunshine" policy of engaging the North. However, Mr. Kim's key ruling coalition partner, Kim Jong-pil, supports Mr. Lim's ouster.

Neither China nor North Korea has provided an agenda for Mr. Jiang's visit to Pyongyang, which is billed as a "goodwill visit" by the leader of China's Communist Party.

But analysts say he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il are likely to take up issues ranging from rebuilding the North's economy to relations with Washington and unease about U.S. missile-defense plans.

A priority for Mr. Jiang will be encouraging Mr. Kim to resume contacts with South Korea and Washington, said Yoo Ho-yeol of Korea University in Seoul. He said China has "no reason to like tensions" with Washington and Seoul.

"They will also discuss what the North can win by resuming dialogue with the United States," Mr. Yoo said.

Washington suspended talks on the North's missile program earlier this year. Pyongyang retaliated in March by cutting off contacts with South Korea.

In June, President Bush offered to resume talks, but North Korea is balking at his request to address the issue of its huge conventional military presence along the North-South border.

Diplomatic progress would help Kim Dae-jung, who has been accused by critics of subsidizing the North and getting nothing in return.

South Korea also is watching whether Mr. Jiang joins Kim Jong-il in a statement demanding that U.S. troops leave the South.

China says it objects on principle to foreign troops in any country. But Joseph Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that in a meeting last month Mr. Jiang showed understanding of the U.S. military presence in the South.

Mr. Jiang last visited North Korea in 1990 as Communist Party leader. His predecessor as president, Yang Shangkun, went in 1992.

Mr. Jiang's visit takes place earlier than expected, said Koh Yu-hwan of Dongguk University.

That suggests Pyongyang has finished a review of policy toward Washington and Seoul begun after Mr. Bush took office and announced his own review of North Korea policy, Mr. Koh said.


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