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South Korea 'open to dialogue' with North, minister says

South Korea Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan said no country in the region knows the intentions of North Korea's new leader.

Story highlights

  • South Korea says not to read too much into harsh recent North Korean rhetoric
  • A top U.S. envoy is in the region after the death of Kim Jong Il
  • North Korea's nuclear program was on the agenda

South Korea is "open to dialogue" with the new North Korean leadership, despite harsh recent comments from Pyongyang, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan said Thursday.

Kim told reporters not to read too much into North Korea's statement that it would never negotiate with the "Lee Myung Bak group of traitors," a reference to the South Korean president.

Kim said he did not know how much influence North Korea's titular new leader Kim Jong Un had in his own country, underlining once again how little is known about the new North Korean leader.

No country in the region, not even Pyongyang's ally China, knew his future intentions, the South Korean foreign minister said.

"It is unclear what kind of attitude they will take towards the rest of the world. China is also waiting to hear and see what kind of official position North Korea's regime will take in the future and I think our stance will also be similar to that," said Kim.

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He was speaking to reporters with a top U.S. State Department official who is visiting the region to discuss North Korea post-Kim Jong Il, its leader since 1994 who died last month.

Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of State for east Asian and Pacific Affairs, is traveling to Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo -- a sign of the concerns the Obama administration and leaders across the region feel about the succession of power and its repercussions for regional security.

"We called on China to do several things," Campbell told reporters, including consulting "closely" with Washington on developments in North Korea.

"We also urged China to make clear the importance of restraint by the new North Korean leadership. We stressed that North Korea should take steps to improve relations with the Republic of Korea and to abide by its international obligations and commitments," Campbell said, using South Korea's official name.

Both Campbell and Kim talked about the on-again, off-again negotiations to get North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.

The US has said it is willing to re-start negotiations with Pyongyang and the ball is in their court but Campbell insisted that without improving its relations with its southern neighbor, Pyongyang would find it hard to improve relations with the international community. Campbell heads to Tokyo Friday.

Asked whether South Korea would have to stand aside to allow other regional powers to negotiate with North Korea, Foreign Minister Kim said, "The ultimate goal is about denuclearization. It is not about how we get there it is about the goal itself."

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