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US, South Korea Urge Pyongyang to Resume Nuclear Talks


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon Thursday urged an early North Korean return to six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program. Host China is leading a new diplomatic push to get the stalled negotiations going again.

The meeting here was part of a flurry of diplomatic activity on the nuclear issue including a Chinese-brokered meeting in Beijing Wednesday of senior American, North Korean and Chinese diplomats.

The six-party talks, which China has been hosting since 2003, stalled out after the parties reached an agreement in principle last September under which North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid.

Secretary Rice and South Korean Foreign Minister Ban issued their joint call for an unconditional resumption of the talks as they began a set of meetings Thursday, part of the two countries' strategic dialogue.

The same appeal was made hours earlier by the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill, in a meeting with the Chinese and North Korean delegates to the talks in Beijing.

The session, arranged by China at the end of an Asian mission by Mr. Hill, was the first of its kind since the six parties last met in a brief three-day round in the Chinese capital in early November.

North Korea has said it would not return to the talks unless the United States dropped financial sanctions it imposed last year, because of alleged North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting of U.S. currency.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Ambassador Hill told his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan that the Bush administration considers the sanctions, imposed under the anti-terrorist Patriot Act, to be completely unrelated to the nuclear negotiations.

"Assistant Secretary Hill made clear again that these issues are separate, and that the United States ,as any country would, has and is going to continue to take steps to prevent illegal activities that may affect us or any other country," he said. "Whether that's involvement in drug trafficking or money-laundering or counterfeiting. These are issues that are separate from the six-party talks."

In his press appearance with Secretary Rice, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban said they would discuss, in depth, ways to end the impasse, and would examine remarks on the nuclear issue by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il during the visit to China he completed Wednesday.

The visit by the reclusive North Korea leader was acknowledged publicly only at the end of the eight-day trip. He is quoted as having said in China that he remained committed to a denuclearized Korean peninsula to be achieved peacefully through dialogue.

China's news agency said Chinese President Hu Jintao told Mr. Kim the correct way to solve the nuclear standoff is through the six-party process, which involves Russia, Japan and South Korea as well as North Korea, the United States and China.

U.S. officials have long believed that North Korea possesses a few nuclear weapons, and may have augmented its arsenal with plutonium derived from the nuclear reactor it reopened after withdrawing from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003.

North Korea itself has spoken of having a nuclear deterrent, but has never tested a device.