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Seoul Dispatches Its Top Nuclear Negotiator to China After Kim’s Death

South Korea sent its chief negotiator on the North’s nuclear program to Beijing to discuss how the death of Kim Jong Il affects international efforts to reverse the reclusive regime’s atomic weapons program.

Lim Sung Nam, the government’s special representative for disarmament talks, will be in the Chinese capital today and tomorrow to meet his counterpart Wu Dawei, the foreign ministry in Seoul said in a statement. The two will “evaluate the situation on the Korean peninsula following Kim Jong Il’s death and discuss the direction of future plans for the North Korean nuclear issue.”

Officials from South Korea, China, the U.S., Japan and Russia are assessing the impact of the leadership change in the regime following Kim’s death. Talks between the five countries and North Korea have stalled since December 2008 after the government in Pyongyang refused to allow inspectors to take samples from a nuclear reactor.

South Korea has been careful to ensure that its moves since the death of Kim do not look hostile to North Korea, President Lee Myung Bak said in a statement on his website today. South Korean army units near the border are on “low-level alert,” according to the statement.

Opinion Poll

Almost half of South Koreans expect Kim Jong Un to turn the North’s regime more open than his late father, according to a survey.

Of 532 South Korean adults surveyed Dec. 20, 48 percent said they expect North Korea to become less closed, compared with 42 percent saying they expect no change from Pyongyang, Gallup Korea said in a report today.

The telephone poll of 532 adults has an error margin of 4.2 percentage points.

South Korea should provide financial aid to the communist nation if it gives up its nuclear-weapons program, according to 62 percent of respondents.

China may provide a substantial amount of food aid to North Korea after Kim Jong Il’s funeral, Yonhap News reported today, citing an unidentified person in Beijing.

The late Kim stepped up his nuclear brinkmanship with the outside world in 2003, when he withdrew from the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, triggering a flurry of diplomatic activity that spawned the six-party talks involving the U.S., Japan, Russia, South Korea and China.

Nuclear Tests

Negotiations intensified after a 2006 nuclear detonation, with North Korea agreeing to shut its nuclear reactor in exchange for shipments of fuel.

Tensions flared again in April 2009 after the United Nations denounced a ballistic missile test and North Korea said it would withdraw permanently from six-party negotiations and resume uranium enrichment. The regime detonated a second nuclear device the following month and fired 17 short-range missiles between May and July.

The UN Security Council on July 17 barred five North Korean officials from leaving their country and ordered their foreign assets frozen as punishment for working on nuclear weapons and missiles.

In November this year North Korea said it was making progress in building a light-water atomic reactor and producing low-enriched uranium.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shinhye Kang in Seoul at skang24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Brett Miller at bmiller30@bloomberg.net

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