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Shuttle Envoys Hop Capitals Prior to Renewed N. Korea Nuclear Talks


International talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs are expected to resume soon, possibly within a matter of weeks. As VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul, key players in the talks are engaging in some preparatory shuttle diplomacy.

South Korea's chief envoy to the North Korean nuclear talks, Kim Sook, left Wednesday for Tokyo, where he is to consult with his American and Japanese counterparts.

Before leaving, Kim told reporters the six-nation talks are just about ready to resume.

"Simply put - I would hope soon," he said.

North Korea reached an agreement with South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States to fully declare its nuclear weapons and stockpiles, as the first major step toward dismantling them. However, Pyongyang is more than six months late in producing the document, which it said it would prepare by the end of 2007.

Kim says the North's declaration is close to being ready and that all six nations feel it is important to reconvene the talks. He urges Japan, in particular, to take a more active role in rewarding North Korea for its gradual steps toward ending its nuclear capabilities.

He says now is the time that Japan should start participating in economic and energy assistance. He says this is very important.

Japan has refused offer such assistance until North Korea offers more cooperation on the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970's and 80's. The two countries achieved some rare progress on the issue, last week, when North Korea promised to open an investigation into the alleged abductees. Japan responded by lifting some of the travel sanctions it imposed on the North after its 2006 nuclear weapon test.

Following this week's meeting in Tokyo, the chief U.S. delegate to the nuclear talks, Christopher Hill, heads to Beijing to talk to senior officials there. China's vice president is visiting the North Korean capital, this week, in another sign the nuclear talks may be about to resume.