Talks with N. Korea 'useful': U.S. envoy

SINGAPORE Oct. 5. The U.S. is assessing a strategy of dialogue to deal with a country which it sees as part of the "axis of evil'' following the conclusion of a delicate diplomatic mission to North Korea by the American Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, James Kelly. This has been implicitly hinted at by Mr. Kelly himself.

Mr. Kelly, who reached Seoul today after completing three days of talks in Pyongyang, left unanswered such critical questions as those concerning the prospects of further talks with N. Korea. However, he told the press that he considered his frank exchanges with the North Korean officials to have been quite useful.

The overall thrust of Mr. Kelly's comments was that the he had left the North Koreans in no doubt whatsoever that America would expect them to address its concerns about Pyongyang. North Korea's responses to the U.S. concerns would have implications for regional and international peace and security, and this aspect had been conveyed by him to Pyongyang, he underlined.

The remarks indicate that the U.S. is in no mood to address North Korea's version of "bilateral concerns'' as distinct from Washington's own concerns regarding Pyongyang. It is this aspect that might determine how far and how long the U.S. will be willing to engage North Korea in this kind of combative diplomacy.

Mr. Kelly has not dropped any significant hint to indicate that the U.S. might have to consider treating North Korea in the same manner as Iraq. America wants North Korea to stop production of suspected weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.

Though the U.S. did not block the recent commencement of civil works for an internationally-aided nuclear power project in North Korea, Washington has made it clear that Pyongyang cannot be rewarded without any substantive progress towards the neutralisation of the Kim Jong-il regime's militarist programmes. Washington's concerns include the human rights situation in North Korea.

America's latest diplomatic engagement of this magnitude is in response to the fears of several key East Asian countries that a confrontational approach by the U.S. might only destabilise the Asia Pacific region. In a sense, Washington's talks with North Korea are designed to keep its ties with China in check, too, according to regional observers.

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