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US-North Korean Diplomats to Resume Nuclear Talks


U.S. Forces Korea commander General James D. Thurman speaking at East Asia Institute conference, October 21, 2011

U.S. Forces Korea commander General James D. Thurman speaking at East Asia Institute conference, October 21, 2011

U.S. and North Korean diplomats are set to meet next week in Geneva to discuss North Korea's controversial nuclear program. Pyongyang wants full six-party talks to resume. But South Korea says the North must first clearly indicate it intends to abandon its nuclear program.

Speaking at an East Asia Institute conference in Seoul, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan said Pyongyang must abide by previous promises to denuclearize before any new round of six-party talks can resume. "Seoul and Washington will keep urging North Korea to demonstrate through specific actions that it has true intentions to abandon its nuclear programs,” Kim stated.

The six-way talks include both Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia. China has been pushing for their quick resumption. But the U.S., South Korea and Japan have been more cautious, saying North Korea must first implement actions it agreed to take in previous negotiations.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told Russia's Itar-Tass news agency last week six-way talks should resume without preconditions. He also reaffirmed his commitment six years ago to gradually reduce North Korea's nuclear programs in exchange for massive aid, enhanced diplomatic relations and security guarantees.

But since the talks were last held in December, 2008, North Korea tested a second nuclear weapon, test-fired more missiles and announced its capability to enrich weapons-grade uranium.

Pyongyang is also accused of two military attacks that killed 50 South Koreans, most of them military personnel.

U.S. Army General James Thurman, who recently assumed command of American forces in South Korea, expressed in his first public speech increasing concern about Pyongyang's development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. “I believe North Korea’s growing asymmetric capabilities increasingly threaten peninsular and regional stability,” he said.

U.S. officials are set to meet early next week in Geneva with North Korean government representatives for a rare, second-round of direct talks about Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Other diplomatic discussions about North Korea are also taking place next week.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who previously headed the CIA, holds talks in Tokyo and Seoul.

And China's vice premier, Li Keqiang, is to visit Pyongyang and Seoul.

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