Faltering relations between Washington and Seoul have bedevilled the search for a resolution to the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula. Rather than opting for dialogue with North Korea, US President George W. Bush should be exploring top-level talks with the South's incoming leader, Roh Moo-hyun. A visit to Seoul by Secretary of State Colin Powell or a similarly ranked official should be a priority so that cracks in the relationship can be repaired. Since taking office two years ago, Mr Bush has not given the Korean peninsula the priority it deserves. His decision to realign Washington's relationship with the Koreas, while naming the North as part of an 'axis of evil', has created a problem not with one Korea, but both. The US, as the keeper of the military balance on the peninsula, is not wholly to blame. Much of the uncertainty in Northeast Asia is because of Mr Roh's unclear foreign policy and the changing nature of South Korean society. Korea expert Nicholas Eberstadt, of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, characterised the problem as akin to that of a family ignoring a crisis until it became almost a disaster. 'That's almost where we are in the US-South Korea relationship,' he said yesterday. 'It is not fair to blame the problem on the Bush administration. The dynamics of the South Korean psychiatric disorder are entirely domestic and have to do with the legacy of its politics and the burdens of success of an economic tiger that has democratised.' Dr Eberstadt said the young generation of South Koreans was the first in the country's history not to understand the dangerous neighbourhood in which they lived. Analysts believe talks between Washington and Seoul should be held urgently. They say North Korea's expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency monitors and threats to restart a mothballed nuclear power facility is a less important matter. 'The US task at this point is to have dialogue with South Korea,' Dr Eberstadt said. 'Someone who is a credible representative of the very top levels of the US government - the secretary of state or national security adviser - should travel to South Korea and talk to people who will be part of the new government about the American perspective, the US-South Korea alliance and the dangers in Northeast Asia.' Seoul University professor of international studies Paik Jin-hyun said South Korea no longer wished to follow Washington's tune and wanted to take the lead instead. As a result, the relationship was now delicate. Mr Roh, who takes over the presidency on February 25, was also problematic. 'We must wait and see until the new president is inaugurated before the position becomes clearer,' Dr Paik said. He said dialogue between the US and South Korea was needed, but he was not optimistic about the relationship. 'We will see what happens,' Dr Paik said. 'I don't have much information about it - few people really know. There are a lot of rumours and I am not very optimistic.'