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U.S. and N. Korea Wrap Up Meetings

Asia: Envoy says he conveyed Washington's 'serious concern' about Pyongyang's weapons programs, human rights record and 'dire humanitarian situation.'


SEOUL — A U.S. envoy dispatched by President Bush concluded three days of talks with officials in North Korea on Saturday but offered few clues about any improvement in relations between their nations.

Assistant Secretary of State James A. Kelly said that his consultations with senior officials of the country Bush has labeled part of an "axis of evil" were candid and that he had conveyed Washington's "serious concern" about North Korea's missile and weapons programs, human rights record and "dire humanitarian situation."

Kelly's was the first visit to North Korea by a senior U.S. diplomat since former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright met with leader Kim Jong Il two years ago in Pyongyang, the capital, raising toasts at dinners and attending a "mass games" performance at his side.

But the warm and friendly tone struck by Albright has turned frosty since Bush took office. He lumped North Korea together with Iran and Iraq in the "axis of evil."

Kelly's four meetings in Pyongyang included sessions with Kim Yong Nam, second in North Korea's hierarchy under Kim Jong Il and the North's ceremonial head of state, and with First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju, who negotiated a U.S.-North Korean nuclear agreement eight years ago.

The U.S. keyed in on North Korea's weapons of mass destruction, missile development programs, missile exports and conventional force deployment, telling North Korean officials that their nation's conduct "could have implications for regional and global security," Kelly said. A comprehensive effort by North Korea to address those concerns could lead to an improvement in bilateral relations, he said.

"The meetings were frank, as befits the seriousness of our differences, and they were useful too," Kelly said in brief remarks to the media in Seoul. He refused to take questions or elaborate.

State Department officials said the meetings weren't anything on the order of the summit last month between Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Kim Jong Il, which paved the way for talks on diplomatic normalization to begin between their countries. During that summit, North Korea acknowledged kidnapping 13 Japanese in the 1970s and '80s, and Japan apologized for its occupation of the Korean peninsula and wartime activities in the first half of last century.

No decision on additional meetings between the U.S. and North Korea has been made, Kelly said, "nor did we expect any following my visit."

Reaction from North Korea was not available Saturday night.

Kelly and his nine-member delegation--including representatives from the National Security Council, the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff--flew back to Seoul earlier in the day. Kelly then briefed South Korean officials on the meeting and planned to fly to Tokyo to do the same for the Japanese.

Officials in Washington will review the results and decide "what the next step should be," Kelly said.

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