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No Sign Of Progress on Inter-Korean Talks


S. Korean Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo, right, his N. Korean counterpart Kim Man Gil, left, before their second day meeting at Kaesong
South Korean officials are not reporting progress in the second and final day of their talks with North Korea on issues including the North's nuclear-weapons program. Meanwhile, China denies a Japanese newspaper report that North Korea asked Beijing to arrange a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Pyongyang.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan dismissed the Japanese newspaper report as groundless. But he said Beijing welcomes more communication between North Korea and the United States so that dialogue can once again get under way.

"We hope these two countries can continue contacts [and] through those contacts promote mutual trust," he said. "Therefore, it does not matter what time or place they have contact, we both welcome and encourage it."

North Korea has boycotted six-way nuclear talks since last year. Three rounds hosted by China were inconclusive.

South Korean officials reported no progress during two days of discussions with North Korean delegates in the border town of Kaesong. The South sought to convince Pyongyang to go back to talks.

On Monday, Seoul said it was prepared to offer North Korea what it described as a major new proposal if Pyongyang returned to negotiations. Officials gave no details of the proposal, but South Korean media speculated it might contain substantial economic incentives.

North Korea has demanded that the United States drop what Pyongyang says is a hostile attitude. The North has previously demanded energy and security guarantees before it will return to negotiations.

Concerns mounted recently when reports out of Washington said the North might be preparing to test a nuclear weapon soon. Last week, Pyongyang announced it had harvested spent fuel rods from a nuclear reactor that could help it build bombs.

Washington wants the North to return to talks unconditionally, but has offered to accept a plan in which other nations would provide energy aid and security assurances if Pyongyang commits to dismantling its nuclear program and then follows through with it.

Pyongyang has never responded to that offer, made at the conclusion of the last round of talks nearly a year ago. North Korean officials have in the past called for bilateral meetings with the United States.

Washington insists on six-way negotiations, saying the North's nuclear weapons programs are a multilateral threat that requires a multilateral solution.

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