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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
US envoy may visit North Korea
North Korean school children eat foods supplied by the UN World Food Programme.
The UN says the North is staring a food crisis in the face
A US presidential envoy is in South Korea to discuss a possible visit to Pyongyang, after Stalinist North Korea indicated last week it was considering resuming dialogue with the United States.

Charles Pritchard, who arrived in Seoul on Thursday, will meet South Korean presidential envoy Lim Dong-won, whose visit to Pyongyang last week renewed stalled inter-Korean dialogue.

Another US representative - former ambassador to South Korea, Donald Gregg - went to the North last week and told officials in Seoul, including Mr Lim, he was encouraged by his "frank" discussions.

A South Korean army officer passes by a sign board at the Dorasan Station
The two Koreas have agreed to resume their dialogue
"Gregg said he received the impression that North Korea is hoping for a good relationship with the United States," South Korea's national Yonhap news agency quoted Mr Lim as saying after the two men met.

But North Korea's official news agency damped down speculation of an impending resumption when it said the "environment" for resuming talks "had not yet been created".

Relations between the US and North Korea deteriorated after President George W Bush instigated a harder-line policy towards the isolationist nation. They were further harmed in January when he branded North Korea a member of an "axis of evil".

The relationship will be discussed at a higher level next week, when South Korean Foreign Minister Choi Sung-hong meets US Secretary of State Colin Powell, a foreign ministry official told AFP news agency.

Earlier this week Seoul hosted a tripartite meeting with Japan and the US in an effort to bring their policies towards North Korea into line and build on Mr Lim's breakthrough talks.

Famine

The apparent softening in North Korea's attitude to the US and Seoul comes as the United Nations announced that more than half of the population is malnourished.

But the international community as a whole has only pledged half of the 600,000 tonnes of food aid requested, said the UN's World Food Programme's Asia bureau chief John Powell.

"Without further contributions, we will run out of food in July or August," he said.

The Stalinist nation has relied on food aid since a massive famine and natural disasters in 1995 caused the collapse of the state-planned economy.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Allies welcome N Korea accord
05 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Korean exchange prompts talk of progress
04 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
S Koreans told to stop wasting food
10 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Severe drought threatens Koreas
03 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
US grants N Korea nuclear funds
28 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea pressed to resume dialogue
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