Seoul, Jan. 13 (Reuters): The top US envoy for Asia said today that Washington was willing to consider helping Communist North Korea resolve its energy crisis if the current standoff over its nuclear plans could be resolved.
Although assistant secretary of state James Kelly was restating a previous offer, he appeared to strike a concessionary tone by at least holding out the prospect of help down the line if Pyongyang meets Washington’s unflinching demand that it unconditionally scrap its suspected weapons programme.
“We are of course willing to talk to North Korea about their response to the international community,” he told a news conference in Seoul.
“Once we get beyond nuclear weapons, there may be opportunities with the US, with private investors, with other countries to help North Korea in the energy area,” he said.
US diplomats and South Korean analysts said Kelly’s hint of energy aid to Pyongyang was not a fresh inducement. Such an offer would break with the US refusal to reward North Korean provocations.
But Kelly’s restatement of Bush administration offers of humanitarian help for North Korea came after talks with President-elect Roh Moo-hyun, who told the US envoy that Seoul was concerned about hardline US rhetoric without dialogue.
Some analysts say North Korea’s recent upsurge of belligerent rhetoric against the US may foreshadow its readiness to explore a way out of the crisis.
“The US says it will not make war with North Korea, but North Korea-US dialogue has not occurred and that has worried South Koreans,” Roh said.
Kelly’s task is complicated by rising anti-US sentiment in the South, where increasing numbers of people are taking a critical look at the half-century-old bilateral relationship and want more of a say in policy on the Korean peninsula.
In Vienna, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was unlikely to convene an emergency board meeting on North Korea this week, deferring critical discussions on whether to pass the issue to the UN Security Council.
“Diplomacy is being given a chance to work,” IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said about the timing for the meeting.
Russia said it had agreed with other major powers on outlines of a plan to defuse the crisis and Japan’s Kyodo news agency said Moscow was considering sending officials to Pyongyang soon.