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Chinese Foreign Minister to Visit N. Korea - 2004-03-18

China will send its foreign minister to North Korea for the first time in five years. The two countries plan to discuss the next step toward solving the dispute over North Korea's nuclear programs.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing will head to North Korea next Tuesday to discuss Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. Beijing has hosted two rounds of talks on the issue, involving China, the two Koreas, Russia, Japan, and the United States.

The last round of talks ended last month in Beijing with no settlement, but the six nations agreed to create working-level groups to study particular issues.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan announced Mr. Li's visit on Thursday, but gave few details of what he would discuss in Pyongyang. Mr. Kong says the two sides attach great importance to the visit, and they expect to reach a good result.

The United States says North Korea must "completely, verifiably, and irreversibly" eliminate its nuclear capabilities before Washington will consider Pyongyang's demands for a formal non-aggression pact and economic aid.

North Korea has signed several international pledges that it would not develop nuclear weapons. But 18-months ago, the United States said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret nuclear program, an allegation North Korea denies.

South Korea and the United States plan to stage joint military exercises later this month. North Korea says the exercises are an example of a hostile U.S. policy, and says it plans to strengthen, what it calls, its nuclear deterrent.

Political turmoil in South Korea is complicating efforts to resolve the nuclear issue. South Korea's Constitutional Court has begun a lengthy legal review of last week's vote to impeach President Roh Moo-Hyun. That vote prompted North Korea to cancel economic talks scheduled for Monday in Seoul, citing what it calls political instability in the South. South Korea rejects the North's accusation that the impeachment was orchestrated by the United States.