Powell Tells Lee, 'Seoul First' In Attempts to Draw Out North

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Powell Tells Lee, 'Seoul First' In Attempts to Draw Out North

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration reaffirmed that Washington will not rush into talks with Pyongyang and that its talks with the communist state will not outpace inter-Korean dialogue.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell also stressed Wednesday that the North's willingness to address U.S. concerns over its missile program will set the tone for relations between the two countries.

"Mr. Powell explained to us that the North's attitude in dealing with their missile issues is one of the most important factors in normalizing ties," Foreign Minister Lee Joung-binn of South Korea told a press conference.

Mr. Lee spoke after his first meeting with the new U.S. Secretary of State on Wednesday. The two men agreed to continue close coordination of their policies toward the communist state.

The Seoul government also secured a pledge of support from the Bush administration for Seoul's reconciliation policies toward North Korea.

Mr. Lee, who arrived here Tuesday, also met Wednesday with Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state-designate and Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser.

"Mr. Armitage reassured us that Washington will not do anything that will put South Korea in a difficult position concerning inter-Korean relations," said a Seoul official accompanying the foreign minister.

Korean analysts and officials, many of whom who had been gloomy about Washington support for Seoul's "sunshine policy," seemed relieved.

A government official who took part in the talks in Washington said, "Washington clearly showed that inter-Korean talks take priority."

Professor Chung Chong-wook of Ajou University said, "In the last days of Clinton's administration, their push for a visit by President Clinton to Pyongyang gave the impression that they were racing ahead of the key players, the two Koreas."

A government official said that progress in talks between Washington and Pyongyang will inevitably slow if North Korea fails to meet the conditions set out by the United States on the key issue of the North Korean missile development program.

For years, Pyongyang has alarmed Washington by its push to develop missiles and sell them abroad. The short, medium and long-range missiles also have caused alarm in Japan.

"Considering that U.S.-DPRK relations are also important to inter-Korean relations, the Seoul government has been left with the burden of persuading North Korea to cooperate in this matter," a government source said on condition of anonymity.

Noting that Mr. Powell expressed some interest in Seoul's possible provision of electricity to the North, another official said, "This could mean that the electricity issue between the two Koreas is related to the North's missiles."

by Ahn Sung-kyoo

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