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North Korea Celebrates Kim Birthday, While Neighbors Try to Restart Nuclear Diplomacy

  • Kurt Achin

As North Korea celebrated Kim Jong Il's birthday, South Korea and its neighbors continued diplomacy to restart multi-lateral nuclear talks that Pyongyang has abandoned.

It was a day of singing and pageantry in Pyongyang, as North Korea officially celebrated the 63rd birthday of leader Kim Jong Il.

Along with the bursting of fireworks, a North Korean official can be heard shouting on state television "Fire for fire - nuclear weapons for nuclear weapons."

The words were another very public reference to North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons, which it again officially declared to the world last week.

While Pyongyang celebrated one of its biggest holidays, other countries continued diplomatic efforts to restart talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs. The North last week declared it would suspend participation in the six-nation talks.

South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun convened a meeting of security officials to discuss North Korea. His government will send Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-Soon to Beijing on Thursday to discuss the issue with Chinese officials.

International security Professor Kim Jae-chun at Sogang University says the timing is right for South Korea and China to play "the China card."

Professor Kim says China is the only country with real leverage over North Korea, but so far Washington and Seoul have not pushed hard enough for China to use it.

China is North Korea's oldest ally and provides a large portion of its impoverished neighbor's food and energy supplies.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon, who just returned from Washington, says he also will speak by telephone with his counterpart in Beijing.

South Korea says it will not begin any major new economic initiatives with North Korea until nuclear talks resume. South Korean officials say they will continue to provide rice and fertilizer to the North for humanitarian reasons.

Japan, China, South Korea, Russia and the United States want North Korea to live up to its past agreements to be nuclear free. There are concerns that a nuclear-armed North could present a security threat in northern Asia and that Pyongyang could sell the weapons to other nations or terrorist groups.

In Tokyo, outgoing US Ambassador Howard Baker told reporters Pyongyang could still return to the talks.

"I was surprised and disappointed that the North Koreans withdrew, but I was intrigued with the wording of their statement, which said 'for the time being' in effect, which gives me some hope that they might return," he said.

Japan, South Korea, the United States, China, and Russia have held three unsuccessful rounds of talks with North Korea in efforts to persuade it to end its nuclear programs.

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