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U.S. envoys brief Seoul on N. Korea visit

Laney and Nunn July 22, 1997
Web posted at: 10:31 a.m. EDT (1431 GMT)

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SEOUL, South Korea (CNN) -- Two U.S. envoys held talks in South Korea on Tuesday ahead of next month's four-nation negotiations in New York. The August 5 talks are aimed at paving the way for a formal peace accord between North and South Korea, which are technically still at war.

Retired U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn and James Laney, former ambassador to South Korea, met South Korean Foreign Minister Yoo Chong-ha in the South Korean capital Seoul.

U.S. officials said Nunn and Laney briefed Seoul on their just concluded two-day visit to North Korea, where talks had been expected to focus on emergency food aid for the North and the U.S. position for the upcoming negotiations.

"Nunn and Laney's feedback will help us fine-tune our stand in the four-party talks," a Seoul government official said.

The preparatory peace discussions also will include the United States and China, and are seen as a crucial step in trying to ease tension in what is often described as the last Cold War front left in the world.

Seoul has said it is willing to offer large-scale economic assistance to the North if Pyongyang agrees to detente.

Tension along the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas has heightened in past months, with repeated cross-border incidents and mutual allegations of provocation.

Seoul seeking fresh insights

South Korean officials were hoping Nunn and Laney would provide fresh insights into North Korean leaders' thinking as Pyongyang prepares for political changes.

On July 8, Pyongyang announced the end of mourning for "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung, paving the way for his son, Kim Jong Il, to take over as the state president and general secretary of the ruling Workers' Party.

Those two posts have been vacant since the senior Kim's death three years ago.

North Korea's official news agency KCNA reported the visit by Nunn and Laney on Monday, but did not give any details as to what precisely was discussed.


"At the talks views were exchanged on the issues of common concern in further improving the North Korean-U.S. relations and an agreement was reached on some important points," the agency said in a report monitored in Tokyo.

North, South to meet on food aid

Analysts said North Korea's leadership faced the urgent task of easing hunger in the country before Kim Jong Il formally assumed the top state and party posts.

"North Korea wants better ties with the United States and Japan in a bid to rescue its collapsing economy," one Korea watcher said.

Pyongyang initially responded negatively to the four-party talks but now appears to be trying to use the negotiations as a bargaining card, according to some analysts.

The food issue has repeatedly come into play with regard to the peace talks. At one point, North Korea tried to link international food aid to its participation in the talks.

On Wednesday, North and South Korean Red Cross representatives are to meet in Beijing to set the amount and procedures of more food shipments to the North.

The United States, South Korea, China and other countries have donated hundreds of thousand of tons of food to North Korea.

United Nations agencies say the country needs about 800,000 tons of food aid before its October harvest to avert widespread famine. The North has suffered severe shortages due to two years of disastrous flooding.

North denies it's selling corn

On Tuesday, North Korea angrily rejected Japanese media reports that suggested North Korea was selling donated corn.

A North Korean ship unloaded more than 1,000 tons of feed corn at the Japanese port of Aomori on July 14. That shipment was reported by Japan's right-wing Sankei Shimbun newspaper, and later by other Japanese media.

A counselor at the North Korean embassy in Beijing said the grain was shipped from China by a North Korean trading company in a commercial transaction.

A North Korean official rejected the media allegations as "spoiling the atmosphere of international assistance."

South Korea agreed with the North Korean statement, saying its own investigations had shown that the shipment was indeed a commercial agreement between a Chinese seller and a Japanese company.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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