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South, North Korea Prepare for Talks

High-level talks between North and South Korea are set to begin against a backdrop of regional diplomacy aimed at responding to the North's missile tests last week. A U.S. envoy has returned to Beijing to hear how China is faring in attempts to influence its communist ally.

North Korean delegates are in Busan, South Korea, for ministerial talks - the first face-to-face contact between North and South Korean officials since Pyongyang test-fired at least seven missiles last week.

There had been fears that Pyongyang would boycott the talks because South Korea suspended food aid to the impoverished North to protest the missile launches.

South Korea's Unification Minister Spokesman Yang Chang-seok says this round of talks will depart from the usual agenda of economic cooperation.

He says the talks will focus instead on the missile tests as well as Pyongyang's refusal to discuss dismantling its nuclear-weapons programs.

Given that North Korea has refused to resume talks on implementing its pledge to give up nuclear weapons, its missile tests have sparked outrage from the international community.

Japan, which may be within range of some North Korean missiles, is especially angry, and has proposed a U.N. Security Council resolution, including economic sanctions against Pyongyang. Voting on that resolution, which is backed by Washington, is on hold to see if the talks in Busan and high-level contacts between China and North Korea make progress in defusing the crisis.

Meanwhile, the top Chinese negotiator (Wu Dawei) on the North Korean nuclear dispute ended a visit to Pyongyang, while the vice president of North Korea's parliament (Yang Hyong Sop) arrived in Beijing.

Analyst Huh Moon-young of the South Korean government's Institute for National Unification says Pyongyang may be willing to accept Beijing's latest proposal for reviving the nuclear talks.

He says North Korea may agree to join South Korea, the United States, Japan, and Russia at an "informal" session in Beijing. But he says Washington would have to do something to ease North Korea's perception of U.S. hostility toward it.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. delegate to the nuclear talks, supports the Chinese proposal. He returned to Beijing for an unscheduled visit to discuss the outcome of the Chinese mission to Pyongyang. Hill says he will closely follow the progress China's diplomacy with Pyongyang, as well as the inter-Korean talks.

The talks in Busan are scheduled to formally begin Wednesday and last until Friday.