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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 09:20 GMT
South Korean envoy 'may meet Kim'
North Korea
South Korea has played down talk of a breakthrough
South Korea expects the envoy it is sending to North Korea next week will meet the Stalinist country's reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, an official has told Reuters news agency.

Projects on hold
Visit of North Korean leader to south
Reunions of divided families
Reopening of rail and road links
Closer economic ties

South Korea is hoping the visit will help to reduce tensions on the divided peninsula after a four-month break in contacts.

Lim Dong-won, a special advisor on national security to President Kim Dae-jung, will travel to Pyongyang on 3 April. He will stay for about four days, a senior government official said.

South Korea's President Kim has said talks between the two Koreas was "essential", not just for the countries themselves but also for improving US and Japanese relations with the communist north.

Missive

South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that Mr Lim will be carrying a letter from President Kim Dae-Jung urging Pyongyang to resolve nuclear and missile development issues and resume dialogue with Washington.

But the South Korean president's chief spokeswoman, Park Son-sook, played down hopes of a breakthrough.

"I understand that expectations and interest are huge because of the stalemate in North-South ties and the atmosphere of tension this year, but now is a time to monitor calmly the outcome of the Pyongyang mission," she said.

North Korea broke off dialogue with the South last year, in response to what it saw as hostility from the United States towards Pyongyang.

US President George W Bush has said that North Korea is part of an "axis of evil", accusing it of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.

In further moves to kick-start inter-Korean dialogue, South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong will visit Beijing on Thursday to discuss the troubled peninsula with his Chinese counterpart and ask for Beijing's support in easing tensions, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.

Talks agenda

Spokeswoman Ms Park has said the presidential envoy's visit to the North is at South Korea's request "for an exchange of broad opinions".

South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, right, is embraced by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il
The peak of North-South relations in 2000

"We expect the talks to lay the groundwork for a resumption of stalled relations between South and North Korea," she said.

It is believed that talks might also cover reunions between members of families divided since the 1950-53 Korean War.

But no mention has been made of the recent defection of 25 North Koreans to the South through China - and the ensuing crackdown on refugees on the border between China and North Korea.

Tense relations

Relations between the two Koreas reached a peak in June 2000 with a historic summit between President Kim and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Key dates
June 2000: First ever summit between two Korean leaders
Oct 2000: Kim Dae-jung wins Nobel Peace Prize
Oct 2001: N Korea calls off family reunions
Jan 2002: President Bush says N Korea part of 'axis of evil'

Divided in 1945, the two Koreas share the world's most heavily armed border.

Relations between the two Koreas cooled after US President George W Bush took office and expressed scepticism about the North Korean leader.

In January, relations worsened again when Mr Bush said North Korea was part of "an axis of evil" along with Iran and Iraq.

News of the envoy's mission came as the US and South Korea continued large-scale, joint military exercises which have triggered angry criticism from North Korea.

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Anger over Korea military exercise
25 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: North Korea's strategic moves
01 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea hits back at US
26 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
China's North Koreans in hiding
20 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
'Manhunt' for N Korean defectors
14 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Koreans' embassy dash
26 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Kim dismisses 'rogue' status
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