US Special Envoy for North Korea Stephen Bosworth arrives in Seoul Tuesday for an Asian tour that will also bring him to Beijing and Tokyo - a trip that may serve as a turning point for the current situation on the Korean Peninsula.
"In all three cities, he will meet with senior government officials to discuss the next steps on the peninsula," the US State Department said in a statement on its website.
Sung Kim, the US envoy for Six- Party Talks, will accompany Bosworth to Seoul and Beijing, it added. Detailed schedules of their Beijing stop were not immediately available.
This is Bosworth's second trip to the region in less than two months. It comes two days after North Korea announced that it was willing to denuclearize.
Bosworth visited the three countries starting in late November after Siegfried Hecker, a US scientist, said he had toured North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex and had seen "more than 1,000 centrifuges" for enriching uranium.
In December 2009, Bosworth spent three days in Pyongyang in an effort to persuade North Korea to rejoin the Six-Party Talks, a trip that he described as "very useful" despite no resumption.
Choi Choon-heum, a senior researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, told the Global Times that the chance of a fruitful turnout of Bosworth's trip is 50/50.
"Last month, North Korea said it would allow for the return of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency after New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson visited Pyongyang. I believe the US wants to consolidate Richardson's achievement by sending Bosworth, and it is trying to seek opportunities to restart the Six-Party Talks," Choi said.
LüChao, director of the Center for Korean Studies at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Bosworth's visit is a tone-setting gesture of Washington's 2011 policy on Korean issues.
"It could be a turning point for the situation on the peninsula. The US may have realized that military deterrents, such as the naval drills it conducted with South Korea recently, have helped little in resuming the Six-Party Talks," he said.
Baek Seung-joo of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses told Reuters that Seoul
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said Monday that the door for inter-Korean dialogue remains open.
"I remind the North that the path toward peace is yet open. The door for dialogue is still open," Lee said in his New Year's speech. "If the North exhibits sincerity, we have both the will and the plan to drastically enhance economic cooperation together with the international community."
However, he stressed that "any provocation" by Pyongyang would not be tolerated.
Analysts suggested that Lee's remarks were in response to Pyongyang's statement over the weekend calling for improving ties through dialogue.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, three leading North Korean newspapers issued a joint New Year's edi-torial Saturday, stressing the country's will to denuclearize the peninsula.
The Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo newspaper said Monday that Pyongyang had made several overtures to Seoul since the start of the Lee administration, but the South Korean public had learned from many incidents that such overtures do not guarantee changes.
The biggest task of the South Korean government this year is to prevent military provocations by North Korea and apply pressure to its weak points so Pyongyang will have to go into talks with Seoul sincerely rather than just to wheedle concessions out of South Korea, the report said.
Meanwhile, Bosworth's trip to Beijing is one of a series of diplomatic exchanges between China and the US in the first month of 2011.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi left Beijing Monday for Washington in a trip seen as a preparation for Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the US later this month.
Pentagon Chief Robert Gates will travel to China on Sunday. He will also visit Japan on January 13 and 14.
Scott Snyder at the Asia Foundation also told Reuters that Seoul's call for dialogue may be linked to Hu's visit to Washington.
However, Shen Dingli, director of the Center for US Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times that those Sino- US diplomatic exchanges this month are just coincidences, not designed for or targeted at any specific issue.