By Na Jeong-ju
President Lee Myung-bak has met with a key U.S. intelligence official at Cheong Wa Dae to discuss the situation in North Korea and bilateral issues between Seoul and Washington, sources said Monday.
The secret visit by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper appears to be aimed at addressing changing security conditions in Northeast Asia following North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s recent visit to China.
The sources said Clapper, after arriving in Seoul last week, has met with South Korean security officials, including National Intelligence Service (NIS) chief Won Sei-hoon, Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin.
Clapper has also held talks with Lee, they said, adding that there could be more high-level consultations between Korean and U.S. officials in the coming weeks.
Cheong Wa Dae refused to confirm his visit for security reasons.
Clapper, a retired lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force, is in charge of intelligence activities by government agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office.
Observers say North Korea was likely a key discussion topic at his meetings with the Korean officials.
“They appear to have exchanged views on Pyongyang’s altering security and economic ties with Beijing and the U.S. position on resuming humanitarian and economic aid to the reclusive country,” a source said.
Another source said Clapper also discussed ways to strengthen communication with the NIS on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the South Korean agency.
Last week, security officials here reaffirmed that the Lee administration won’t resume talks with North Korea unless it apologizes first for last year’s deadly attacks on the South.
They also indicated that Seoul will maintain a tough stance on Pyongyang’s nuclear brinkmanship and military provocations.
Washington has called on Pyongyang to address Seoul’s grievances over the deadly attacks before moving to a new round of talks concerning denuclearization-for-aid.
In March, Clapper, during a Senate hearing, did not rule out the chances of North Korea further provoking South Korea, saying “North Korea has shown a proclivity for doing sometimes the unexpected and it is the unintended consequences of those events that may precipitate something else.”