North Korea 'to consider' Seoul's plea
SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, accused by U.S. President George W. Bush of "blackmailing" the world with his nuclear program, says he will consider a plea from Seoul to end the crisis, a South Korean envoy said.
South Korean envoy Lim Dong-won told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday that the communist leader received the letter he was carrying from President Kim Dae-jung and would reply.
Lim returned to Seoul on Wednesday from a three-day visit to Pyongyang where he was snubbed by the North's Kim who failed to appear for expected talks.
However, Lim held what was described as a constructive meeting with North Korea's Number 2 leader Kim Yong Nam. He also managed to pass on the message from the South Korean president.
Lim told reporters the letter he was carrying said "North Korea needed to take a new view of the situation on the Korean peninsula."
Lim said the Kim Dae-jung letter suggested Pyongyang should reverse its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, again freeze its nuclear facilities and abandon its uranium enrichment program.
Lim added that the North Koreans listened carefully.
"Kim Jong Il thanked President Kim Dae-jung for the letter and promised to study its warm advice and let us know their opinion later," Lim relayed, adding that "there is no quick solution to the North's nuclear dispute and it is a very long and gradual process."
A face-to-face meeting with the North Korean leader would have been seen as a significant step in Seoul where officials believe only Kim Jong Il himself has the necessary decision-making clout to break the nuclear impasse.
The snub, analysts say is a gesture clearly aimed at underscoring Pyongyang's view that only direct negotiations with Washington can resolve the crisis.
"They want to deal directly with George W. Bush and tell them basically you guarantee my security and in exchange I may consider dropping my nuclear weapons program," Lee Chong-min, from Seoul's Yonsei University, told CNN.
Pyongyang is in the process of restarting its Yongbyon nuclear plant -- which had been suspected of being used to produce material for nuclear weapons -- an action it says was necessary because the United States stopped heavy fuel oil shipments.
Earlier this month, North Korea announced it was pulling out of the 1994 Agreed Framework which promised U.S. assistance to Pyongyang in exchange for freezing its nuclear program.
Washington said it stopped the shipments because Pyongyang admitted to having a nuclear weapons program -- a violation of the 1994 agreement -- a claim North Korea denies.
Lim also said the North Korea reiterated its position that the nuclear issue needed to be resolved by dialogue directly between North Korea and the United States.
"The fundamental solution of the nuclear issue can be resolved only when developers don't feel any need to develop nuclear weapons, such as only when the country suspected of building nuclear weapons doesn't feel any security threats and builds relationships of trust with other countries," Lim said.
Bush, who last year branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" with Iran and Iraq, used his State of the Union address on Tuesday to accuse Pyongyang of deceit and blackmail.
"Throughout the 1990s, the United States relied on a negotiated framework to keep North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons. We now know that that regime was deceiving the world and developing those weapons all along," Bush said.
"Today the North Korean regime is using its nuclear program to incite fear and seek concessions. America and the world will not be blackmailed," he said.
But Bush pushed diplomacy on the issue, saying the U.S. was working with South Korea, Japan, China and Russia to find a resolution.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry welcomed what it called Bush's "balanced and restrained comments."