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US, South Korea Envoys in Beijing for North Korea Talks

Top U.S. and South Korean negotiators have met with Chinese officials in Beijing Thursday as part of stepped up efforts to get North Korean nuclear talks going again.

The newly appointed U.S. negotiator in the North Korea talks, Christopher Hill, met in the Chinese capital with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing. South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon also arrived in Beijing Thursday for separate consultations.

The flurry of diplomacy is aimed at reversing North Korea's decision last week to pullout of six-nation talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program. China - which has hosted three rounds - is among North Korea's few allies and aid benefactors. Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States want China to use this influence with Pyongyang.

Thursday's meetings come before Chinese diplomat Wang Jiarui departs for North Korea. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan Thursday declined to give details.

Mr. Kong says Mr. Wang and North Korean officials will exchange views on issues of common interest. He declined to say if China would offer a new economic aid package to Pyongyang - which has been done in the past to successfully lure North Korea to the negotiating table.

At issue is North Korea's plutonium and uranium-based nuclear weapons programs - which violate several international agreements signed by Pyongyang. The crisis began in October 2002, when the United States said North Korea admitted having a secret development program. Since then North Korea pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expelled U.N. inspectors and claims now to actually have built weapons. International experts believe the claim could be true.

North Korea has repeatedly said it will only dismantle its programs in exchange for aid and security guarantees from the United States - seen by Pyongyang as it main enemy. Washington rejects preconditions as tantamount to blackmail and wants North Korea to comply with long-standing accords before any incentives will be considered.

U.S. officials this week urged North Korea to return to talks at an early date, saying the six-party process is the best opportunity North Korea has to resolve the impasse peacefully.