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US, S. Korean, Japanese Delegations Conclude Preliminary Talks Ahead of N. Korean Talks - 2003-08-14

Senior U.S., South Korean and Japanese diplomats have completed a two-day set of preparatory talks in Washington for the six-nation meeting on the North Korean nuclear program opening August 27 in Beijing.

The meetings here, described as informal, were held behind closed doors and none of the participants spoke to reporters as the talks ended around mid-day Thursday.

But State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the discussions spanning two days had been "very useful" in coordinating the three allies' approach to the Beijing talks.

"The discussions are part of on-going and continuing close consultations with our South Korea and Japanese allies. And certainly reflect our mutual desire to coordinate our positions and to work together to achieve our shared goals, very specifically the verifiable and irreversible end of North Korea's nuclear weapons program," he said.

The talks were chaired by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs James Kelly and also included South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-Hyuck and Japanese Foreign Ministry Director-General Mitoji Yabunaka.

Spokesman Casey confirmed that Mr. Kelly, who led the U.S. team at an initial three-way U.S.-China-North Korea meeting in Beijing in April, will also be the U.S. delegation chief at the upcoming Beijing round.

The rest of the delegation was not announced.

But the spokesman said he would "not contradict" a statement by Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage earlier this week in Australia that the Bush administration's chief arms control official, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, will not take part in the Beijing talks.

Mr. Bolton has come under sharp personal attack in North Korea's official media after making critical comments about the communist government in a speech last month in Seoul.

However, officials here say there had been no plans to send him to Beijing and that President Bush and Secretary of State Powell, not Pyongyang, will decide the makeup if the U.S. delegation.

The next round at Beijing will be expanded to include Japan, South Korea and Russia.

U.S. officials say the broader format will underscore international opposition to a nuclearized Korean Peninsula, and also engage potential donors for North Korea should it decide to end its weapons program.