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SLUG: 2-268307 Albright / NOKOR / Asia React (L-O) DATE: NOTE NUMBER:









INTRO: South Korea and Japan have offered words of support for Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visit to North Korea. As V-O-A's Amy Bickers reports, both Northeast Asian nations are hopeful that improving relations between Pyongyang and Washington will help their efforts to build ties with the communist state.

TEXT: Government officials in Seoul are welcoming Secretary Albright's trip, suggesting that it will boost the inter-Korea dialogue that began with the historic Korea summit five-months ago.

President Kim Dae-jung's spokesman says South Korea must consider North Korea's moves to set up new relations with the outside world to be desirable.

But some critics, including opposition politicians, have warned that Secretary Albright's visit might shift Pyongyang's focus to relations with Washington, making it less willing to talk to the South. There are also concerns that North Korea may concentrate on resolving military and political issues with the United States, while turning to South Korea only for economic support.

Officials in Seoul say their North Korean counterparts have recently been passive or unresponsive on arranging previously agreed talks on family reunions, as well as military, political, and tourism exchanges, which were all scheduled for October. But many believe that the delays are due to a lack of manpower in the North for setting up multi-lateral gatherings.

In Japan, the chief cabinet secretary says he hopes that the secretary of state's trip would help Tokyo's efforts to normalize ties with Pyongyang. He told reporters Monday that Japan welcomes the continuation of positive developments between the United States and North Korea.

Japan is to hold another round of talks with North Korea next week on setting up diplomatic ties. The meeting, which will take place in Beijing, will be the third round of negotiations since April. Before that, progress had been stalled since the early 1990's.

Ms. Albright has assured Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono she will keep Japan's concerns in mind in her talks with North Korean officials. They include the alleged abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970's and 1980's and the North's missile development program.

Secretary Albright is scheduled to brief Mr. Kono on her trip at a three-way meeting of the foreign ministers of the United States, Japan and South Korea in Seoul on Wednesday. (SIGNED)


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