U.S. woos S. Korea with talks agenda

SEOUL, Reuters

The United States, seeking support for an ambitious missile shield, told South Korea on Thursday it would resume talks with North Korea — adding new light for Seoul’s “Sunshine Policy” towards its old foe.

South Korean officials appeared happy with the message of support from U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who arrived on Wednesday on a Far East tour to explain the Bush administration’s strategic vision on missile defence.

Earlier, protesters against the missile shield plan pelted Armitage’s car with eggs as he drove out of his hotel for morning meetings. Demonstrators also tussled with police at the Defense Ministry when he arrived there.

“These talks were important because we received confirmation that U.S. talks with North Korea would resume and Washington has shown strong support for South Korea’s Sunshine Policy,” Seoul’s Unification Ministry director of policy, Lee Bong-jo, said.

He was speaking to reporters after Armitage met Unification Minister Lim Dong-won, who is in charge of North Korean affairs.

“This confirmation itself is a message to North Korea,” Lee said. “We’ll have to wait for North Korea’s response.”

Pyongyang sent a message of its own last week, when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il told a visiting European Union delegation he wanted to meet South Korean President Kim Dae-jung, but the timing of that summit depended on a U.S. policy review.

Kim Jong-il also offered an olive branch to President George W. Bush, announcing he would unilaterally extend a moratorium on testing long-range missiles until 2003.

During talks with South Korean Defence Minister Kim Dong-shin, Armitage presented Washington’s case for a missile shield that would effectively abrogate a central Cold War-era treaty barring such defenses.

“We understand the strategic position of the U.S.,” a ministry spokesman quoted Kim as telling Armitage.”With resumed U.S.-North Korea talks, we expect new momentum in the South-North dialogue, which has currently subsided.”

At a roundtable discussion with top South Korean security officials, Armitage and U.S. diplomats agreed to closely consult and share information on the missile defence system, the semi-official Yonhap news agency reported.