- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 31, 2002

SEOUL Despite tensions with the United States, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is eager to resume dialogue on the divided Korean Peninsula, Indonesia's president said yesterday after visiting the isolated communist state.
Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri was the first foreign head of state to meet Kim Jong-il since President Bush called North Korea part of an "axis of evil" nations that seek weapons of mass destruction or sponsor terror.
She delivered a message from South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, who urged Kim Jong-il to resume stalled dialogue with Seoul and Washington.
The North Korean leader responded "very affirmatively," Mrs. Megawati said at a news conference in Seoul with Kim Dae-jung. "I felt that Chairman Kim wants quick progress in South-North Korean relations and is very friendly and has a strong will in this matter," she said.
A White House spokesman said in a statement yesterday that the Bush administration would welcome the resumption of a dialogue.
"We have always supported President Kim Dae-jung's policy of engagement with the North and we look to the North to respond by taking steps to decrease the tension in the peninsula. … We, too, remain ready for a dialogue with the North," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe, with Mr. Bush at the president's ranch in Texas.
The Indonesian president's statement was initially taken to mean that North Korea may be willing to reopen talks with the United States as well as with South Korea. But Yim Sung-joon, national security adviser to the South Korean president, said he was not sure whether the affirmative response applied also to dialogue with the United States.
"She was explaining [Kim Jong-ils] hope for open-hearted talks between South and North Korea," Mr. Yim said after the press conference.
North Korea had already agreed to a visit from a South Korean presidential envoy next week. The envoy's mission is to revive the reconciliation process between the two Koreas virtually frozen amid tension between North Korea and the United States, which is concerned about the North's nuclear ambitions and missile development and sales.
U.S.-North Korean relations that had warmed in the final months of the Clinton administration cooled after Mr. Bush took office last year and expressed skepticism about the North Korean leader. Mr. Bush later offered to start talks with the North, but the offer was rejected and tension increased with his "axis of evil" remark in January.
The South Korean president said Friday, however, that he saw signs suggesting North Korea is starting to open up to the United States after months of strident anti-American rhetoric.
"I am not absolutely sure, but it seems that the United States and North Korea are moving toward dialogue," Kim Dae-jung said. He said there has been "some significant progress" since Mr. Bush visited Seoul in February and reiterated his offer of dialogue with the North.
Meanwhile, North Korea's state-run news media have sent mixed signals. On Friday, the state-run Central Radio said the country would abide by a 1994 agreement with Washington to freeze its nuclear power program, which is suspected of being used to develop nuclear weapons.
"We have always kept our promises with the U.S. and will do so in the future, too," Central Radio said, according to South Korea's national Yonhap news agency.
Yesterday, however, the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper accused the United States of being "keen to bring a nuclear holocaust to the Korean nation."
The 1994 accord is a linchpin of U.S. efforts to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. North Korea has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the accord and restart its nuclear power program, which is believed to have produced enough plutonium for one or two bombs.
The 1950-53 Korean War ended without a peace treaty between the Koreas divided since 1945 and the border is sealed and heavily armed. About 37,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.


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