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Officials Rush to Prepare for Resumed Nuclear Talks with North Korea

  • Kurt Achin

US nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, left, S. Korea's nuclear negotiator, Song Min-soon, right, and Kenichiro Sasae of Japan's Foreign Ministry, center, enter meeting room in Seoul
Senior Asian and U.S. diplomats are rushing to make the most of limited time to prepare for the resumption of talks aimed at North Korea's nuclear disarmament. With negotiations scheduled to resume before the end of this month, the United States and its partners are comparing notes to improve the chances of the talks' success.

In Seoul, South Korea hosted delegates from the United States and Japan on Thursday, to discuss strategy for the next round of six-party talks.

Those three nations, along with China and Russia, hope to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programs when the talks resume the week of July 25. Pyongyang agreed last week to end its year-long boycott of the discussions, after South Korea offered to supply it with large amounts of electricity in exchange for disarmament.

In Pyongyang, Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan was wrapping up three days of consultations with senior North Korean leaders.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jinchao says China and its historical ally see eye to eye on the upcoming talks.

Mr. Liu says China and North Korea both agree that the next round of six-party talks should make tangible progress toward a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

The delegates in Seoul made no immediate comment after Thursday's discussion, but analysts say their meeting probably focused on keeping their message to North Korea unified.

Ryoo Kihl-jae, a dean at Kyungnam University's School of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says the best chance for the talks' success may be a shift in Washington's position.

Mr. Ryoo says the United States should abandon its previous demand that North Korea completely disarm before it receives compensation. He says Washington should be ready to accept a more phased approach.

Other officials agree that economic incentives such as free electricity alone will not be enough to get the North to dismantle its nuclear programs.

South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said Thursday that one of North Korea's main goals is a "friendly relationship" with the United States. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev said security guarantees for Pyongyang would also be an important part of any deal.

Thursday's strategy meeting in Seoul came immediately after quick visits by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to China, Japan and South Korea, and the North Korean nuclear issue dominated her discussions in those countries.

More shuttle diplomacy is expected between the negotiating partners in the coming days, as is an announcement of an exact date for the talks to commence.

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