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New Effort Under Way to Revive North Korea Nuclear Talks

  • Kurt Achin

New diplomatic efforts are under way to bring North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks. A top Chinese diplomat is in Seoul for discussions, a day after the South Korean president made clear his government and the United States are trying a new approach in resolving the nuclear dispute.

China's senior delegate to the nuclear disarmament talks said Friday in Seoul that his government backs the new U.S.-South Korean approach toward North Korea.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei gave no other details about his country's position. Wu arrived in Seoul Friday to consult with South Korean officials on how to end North Korea's year-long boycott of the negotiations.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun says his country and the United States have agreed to what he calls a "broad and common approach" toward North Korea.

The two countries have been working for three years with China, Russia, and Japan to persuade the North to end its nuclear arms programs.

Mr. Roh on Thursday told the South Korean MBC network that it is too early to make details of the new approach public.

The South Korean president says Pyongyang was briefed about the plan before he met with President Bush earlier this month. He says the North has neither embraced nor rejected the new plan.

A U.S. embassy official in Seoul says the new approach involves tighter coordination between the two allies. In addition, the United States will support Seoul's plan to invest at least $3 billion in North Korea's infrastructure if Pyongyang returns to the six-nation talks.

Washington also made clear this week that it would meet separately with North Korea if it agrees to resume the nuclear talks. Pyongyang has long demanded bilateral talks, which until now, the U.S. had said could only be held in the context of the six-nation nuclear talks.

Pyongyang is boycotting the nuclear talks to protest financial sanctions the United States imposed because of alleged North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting.

Washington has said they are a law enforcement matter and are separate from the nuclear talks.

South Korea and the United States have often diverged in their approaches to North Korea. Seoul strives to engage and cooperate with its impoverished neighbor, while Washington has preferred diplomatic and financial pressure.

Tong Kim was a long-time senior interpreter for the U.S. State Department in negotiations with the North, and is now an international relations professor at Seoul's Korea University. He says the "common approach" involves some face-saving way around the sanctions issue.

"It could be something like slowing down of additional sanctions. But I don't think the (U.S.) Treasury is interested in doing anything like that at all - and I don't think Treasury gets much pressure from the White House," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to be in Asia within the next two months for what she describes as a "final push" to get the six-party talks restarted. This week, she described the current situation as "unacceptable."

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