WASHINGTON- The Bush administration announced yesterday that it was sending a senior diplomatic envoy to North Korea, ending a nearly two-year break in relations with the isolated nation that President Bush says is one of the greatest threats to U.S. security.
The White House announced the diplomatic mission, which has been in the works for more than two months, after Bush spoke by phone with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, who views U.S. engagement with North Korea as a key component of the eventual reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
Senior administration officials said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is expected to make the trip to Pyongyang in October. But they tried to lower expectations for the meeting with one of three nations that Bush describes as making up an "axis of evil."
Bush aides said North Korea would have to make sweeping economic, military and political reforms if it hoped to establish a long-term relationship with the United States.
"Nothing has changed in the president's thinking about President Kim Jong Il and the North Korean leader's starvation of his own people, the militarization efforts that he's leading, the massive number of conventional weapons that he has on the border with South Korea, as well as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.
Foreign policy experts and administration officials said the agreement to meet in Pyongyang was the latest in a series of recent hopeful signals regarding North Korea after its overtures in the past six weeks with Japan and South Korea.