S Korea gives US 'road map' for North talks

 

South Korea has given the United States a "road map" of ideas to help resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis after Pyongyang's weekend decision to soften its stance on talks about its suspected atomic ambitions.

In Washington, US President George W. Bush said on Sunday that prospects looked better for multilateral talks to end a standoff which began last October when the United States said the communist North had admitted to a covert nuclear programme.

"I think that people have got to know that we are serious about stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and that each situation requires a different response," Bush told reporters. "We are making good progress in North Korea."

South Korean media and analysts were cautiously optimistic, too, and the won currency rose against the dollar in response to the North's shift and a rising stock market index.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan met U.S. ambassador Thomas Hubbard in Seoul, and the two men discussed the prospects for "diplomatic talks" with Pyongyang, an official at the ministry's North American Affairs Department told Reuters.

Officials declined to give details of the "road map" on Monday and it was unclear whether Yoon had personally handed the proposals to Hubbard, but Yonhap news agency said ideas included a freeze in Pyongyang's nuclear programme and energy aid for the North.

National Security Adviser Ra Jong-yil told reporters at the presidential Blue House the U.S.-led Iraq war had been a key factor in prompting North Korea's shift.

"It seems that North Korea is becoming a bit more flexible, including in the way it communicates," Yonhap quoted Ra as saying. "It appears that the war in Iraq set an important precedent in determining the geopolitical landscape."

Ra is President Roh Moo-hyun's top security adviser. Bush and Roh are to meet next month in Washington for talks.North Korea has denied admitting it has a nuclear programme, and has been insisting on bilateral talks with Washington.

But, in a significant shift, it said on Saturday it would consider any form of dialogue if Washington made a "bold switchover" in its policy toward the North.The North did not specify what would constitute a "bold switchover" but the poor, energy-starved state has demanded aid and security guarantees in the past.