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    North Korean Delegation in Japan for Informal Security Talks

    North Korea's top nuclear negotiator and other high-ranking officials from the communist state have arrived in Japan for a rare visit. They will be attending an academic conference next week that will discuss Northeast Asian security issues, including Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

    Japanese officials are stressing that the Tokyo gathering is not a formal session for negotiating efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

    Among the North Koreans who arrived in Japan Friday is Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, the country's chief negotiator on nuclear issues.

    He and eight other officials from Pyongyang are in the country for the North East Asia Cooperation Dialogue, sponsored by the University of California at San Diego.

    Kim says his visit has nothing to do with the six-nation nuclear talks. He says that the United States knows what it must do to get North Korea back to the negotiations.

    Pyongyang has said it will not resume the nuclear talks until the United States ends its crackdown on alleged counterfeiting and money laundering by North Korean enterprises.

    Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Tomohiko Taniguchi says the four-day conference, which begins Sunday, will cover a range of what he calls "very important issues," including nuclear proliferation.

    "I hope very much that this is going to create a very good catalyst for the six-party talks to be resumed, and North Korean officials, who will come back to their country again convinced of the vital importance to resume the talks," he said.

    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator to the North Korean nuclear talks will attend the conference. However, U.S. officials say there are no plans for a one-on-one meeting with the North Korean official.

    China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are also parties to the six-way talks, and will have officials from the previous nuclear negotiations at the conference.

    Formal talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs, hosted by China, have been at a stalemate since last November. The United States and its allies say North Korea must comply with past agreements not to build nuclear weapons before it can receive economic aid and end its diplomatic isolation.


    Steve Herman

    A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

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